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.
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.
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