Battle of Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862

American Civil War battle that saw one of the least impressive performances by any Union commander. Despite repelling Lee’s invasion of the north at Antietam (17 September 1862), General McClellan still showed no willingness to launch a vigorous counterattack, and on 5 November he was finally removed from command.

Link to map of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg, complete map

Link to map of northern half of battle of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg, top half of map

Link to map of southern half of battle of Fredericksburg
Frederickburg, bottom half of map

He was replaced by General Burnside. Even Burnside did not think this was a wise appointment, and it seems that he only took the command to stop Joseph Hooker from getting it.

Burnside started with a reasonable plan. He intended to march south quickly, while Lee was resting in the Shenandoah Valley. However, when he reached Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River, his pontoon bridges were missing, and so he could not cross before Lee arrived and fortified a very strong position just back from the river. Astonishingly, Burnside came to the conclusion that as Lee would expect him to try and outflank this strong position, he would simply launch a frontal assault!

The ensuing battle has become notorious as a bloodbath, although the overall losses on the Union side were actually lower than at Second Bull Run, while the Confederates suffered some 5,309 losses themselves. However, it was Burnside’s near total lack of skill that stuck in the mind. The battle consisted of a series of poorly coordinated frontal assaults on strong Confederate positions, as Burnside demonstrated just why he was unsuited to the highest commands. His period in command quickly came to an end - Lincoln had to find another commander for the Army of the Potomac.

Roll Call to Destiny, Brent Nosworthy. This book takes a very different approach to the Civil War battlefield, looking at a number of well known incidents from the point of view of one or more of the individual units involved. This book will be of value to anyone with an interest in the Civil War battlefield. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 July 2006), Battle of Fredericksburg, 13 December 1862 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_fredericksburg.html

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