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The Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia


On December 13, 1862, a major Civil War battle was fought in the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. General Ambrose commanded the Army of the Potomac in the fight against General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. It ensued in a Union defeat that dealt a major blow to Northern morale over the winter of 1862 through 1863.

Burnside had just assumed command of the Army of the Potomac the previous month, because George McClellan hadn’t pursued Lee’s army into Virginia following the September 17th battle of Antietam in Maryland.

The Union general had planned to move against the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. The Federal army took up positions throughout northern Virginia down to Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Burnside’s plan was to cross the river and continue south to Richmond.

Problem was, the army hit a stall in crossing the Rappahannock. The pontoon bridge wasn’t in place by the time troops arrived. This delay allowed Lee the chance to move his troops into place across Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg, giving the Confederates the high ground.

According to one Rebel officer, “a chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”

But, despite the drawbacks, on December 13, Burnside ordered the Union attack. Federal artillery was effective, but the six-hundred yard open field proved to be a killing ground for the Yankees. Union soldiers tried to scale the hill, and a few came to within fifty yards, but none were able to reach the Confederates.

During the carnage, Lee told General James Longstreet, “It is well that war is so horrible, or else we should grow too fond of it.”

The following day, December 14, Burnside thought to continue the attack, but his subordinates urged him to order a retreat. The next day, a truce was called so Union soldiers could collect their dead and wounded. Burnside then headed to the north under cover of rain and darkness.

On the Yankee side, 12,650 were killed or wounded. Lee lost about 4,200 men.

After this Federal defeat, General Joseph Hooker was put in as a replacement for Burnside to command the Army of the Potomac in January of 1863.

For more about this historic battle, visit these sites:

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  1. bethtrissel says:

    Susan, what a very interesting post. That is one horrifically bloody time period and got mighty close to home for us here in the valley. The Shenandoah Valley was burned, you know, and battles fought here too. My ancestors were heavily involved in the Civil War and some died, mostly on the side of the South. Being a Virginian my sympathies have to lie with the South, but if I’d been there I think I would have wanted to smack those commanders upside the head (a local expression) and ask what the heck happened to the Indian style fighting we learned back during the previous century? Why on earth they marched column of column of men into artillery fire is beyond me.

  2. Hi, Beth! And yes, they used those British marching column tactics at the beginning of the war, but weaponry was much more advanced and became more so later in the war. That was when they wised up and used trench warfare tactics in the final years of the war. Those tactics were used again in World War I.

  3. Another fascinating post, Susan. I didn’t know this battle was the source of Lee’s famous quote.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Ally! It’s true that quote would have fit many Civil War battles before the tide turned against the Confederates later in the war.

  5. Kathy Otten says:

    Hi Susan,
    Loved your blog. I’ve been researching Fredricksburg for a new book I’ve started. My hero is a surgeon who was at Antietam, then ‘lost it’ at Fredricksburg. He is sent back to Washington for a time, where he worked at the Armory Square Hospital then is sent back to his unit just in time for Chancellorsville. I loved the history of the Civil War back in high school and still love researching it. Even though most of my stories are westerns, my heroes were still there, Spotsylvania Court House, Rummel Farm, The Wilderness and others.

  6. Kathy Otten says:

    I also read where the soldiers the next day had to use pick axes and shovels to get the bodies out of the frozen ground.

  7. It is inconceivable to me that this war raged on for as long as it did. Imagine the consitution these men had to have not to just give up. I don’t think my heart would have last beyond the first year of this madness.

  8. Hi, Kathy! Sounds like a great story and I’m always on the look for Civil War romances. Joshua Chamberlain was pinned down in the field during the night in that battle. He used the bodies of dead soldiers as a shield against enemy fire.

  9. Hi, Paisley! I don’t think either side conceived that the war would go on as long as it did.

  10. bethtrissel says:

    Thanks for all the added info, Susan.

  11. You’re welcome and thanks for stopping by, Beth!

  12. Lilly Gayle says:

    I love Fredericksburg and Civil War stories. My grandmother was born in Fredericksburg. Her family home, Aspen Grove was used as a hospital during the war and my great granduncle once lived in Chatham Manor, which became a Union headquarters during the war.

    Thanks so much for posting this account of another battle fought on American soil. I’ve been wanting to write a Civil War romance for years but fear I couldn’t do it justice. Can’t imagine having lived during that horrific time in American history.

  13. Hi, Lilly! It’s my favorite periods to write, but unfortunately, the period doesn’t seem to draw enough readers. Right now, I’m working on a post Civil War story based on a character in my 2009 Civil War romance, Confederate Rose. At least the ghost of the war will be in that story, since the hero lived throught it.

    And, wow! What a link to history your family has. My husband learned he had an ancestor who fought on the Union side, while his two brothers fought in the Confederate Army. The family lived in Maryland.

  14. Lilly Gayle says:

    I love that time period too. Wonder why it’s not more popular among readers?

  15. Wish it was. I’m always grabbing up books set during the Civil War. There are so many interesting situations to write about and character conflict is built right in.

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