After the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat back into Virginia from Maryland, ending his first invasion of the North. The commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George McClellan, chose not to pursue Lee's retreating army, prompting President Abraham Lincoln to replace McClellan with Major General Ambrose E. Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862.
After the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat back into Virginia from Maryland, ending his first invasion of the North. The commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George McClellan, chose not to pursue Lee's retreating army, prompting President Abraham Lincoln to replace McClellan with Major General Ambrose Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac on November 7, 1862. Lincoln and General-in-Chief Henry Halleck urged Burnside to initiate an invasion of Virginia quickly.
Burnside submitted a plan to Halleck on November 9, that called for the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rappahannock River at the town of Fredericksburg, gaining control of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, which would be used for a rapid invasion of the Confederate capitol at Richmond. Halleck and the President approved the plan and by November 19, 1862, the Army of the Potomac was positioned to cross the Rappahannock.
Unfortunately for Burnside, the pontoon bridges that he planned to use to move his army across the river did not arrive until November 25. By then, Burnside's intentions were clear to Lee, who used the delay to fortify the area around Fredericksburg. Unable to find a suitable alternative site to cross the Rappahannock and feeling pressured by Lincoln and Halleck, Burnside decided to continue the operation and assault Lee's entrenched army. On December 11, Union engineers attempted to lay the pontoon bridges across the river. They were met with harassing fire from Brigadier General William Barksdale's Mississippian brigade occupying the town. Burnside responded with a punishing artillery barrage of Fredericksburg, which was used to cover the crossing. By the morning of December 12, the Union army had established itself on the south side of the river, but it met fierce resistance in some of the first urban fighting of the war.
Upon gaining control of the town, the Federals embarked upon a day of looting and vandalism, enraging Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia. On December 13, Burnside began his assault on Lee's army. Troops under the command of Major General Wiliam B. Franklin opened the battle by attacking the Confederate right flank. They experienced some brief success when Major General George Meade's division penetrated Lieutenant General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's line, but Jackson's men drove Meade back with a counterattack. Burnside next tried attacking Lee's left flank, commanded by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Having to cross a drainage ditch and an open field under murderous fire from the well positioned Confederates, sixteen separate Federal charges resulted in a bloodbath. Mercifully, darkness put an end to the killing. Determined to win the battle, Burnside planned another assault for the morning but was finally dissuaded by his officers during the night. Instead, Lee granted Burnside a truce to care for the Union wounded and dead on December 14. The following day, Burnside led his defeated army back across the Rappahannock and the campaign ended.
Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg included:
- 4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- Battery H, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
- Battery L, 1st Ohio Light Artillery
Facing an army approximately sixty percent of his own army's size, Burnside's Army of the Potomac suffered 12,653 casualties compared to 5,377 casualties for Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. In the aftermath of the battle, President Lincoln came under extreme criticism in the North, even among supporters of the Republican Party. By January 26, 1863, he replaced Burnside with Major General Joseph Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac. In the South, jubilation reigned. Lee and his army became even more certain of their invincibility, a mindset that would serve them well during the next major battle of the war at Chancellorsville, Virginia.
Cite this Entry
"Battle of Fredericksburg," Ohio Civil War Central, 2013, Ohio Civil War Central. 22 May 2013 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=220>
"Battle of Fredericksburg." (2013) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 22, 2013, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=220