The Battle of Fredericksburg

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Second Federal (Union) Occupation and "Valley Forge" Period

1862

The Battle of Fredericksburg

The Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862) was fought from Stafford County…

The Federal Army of the Potomac’s (AOP) headquarters; command, control and communications; about half the artillery fire support; intelligence networks; logistics and transportation systems; engineering systems; rear area security and civil-military operations; and medical evacuation and hospital infrastructure were all in Stafford.

Burnside’s Army of the Potomac, organized into 68 brigades in eight infantry corps with attached cavalry and artillery, consisted of 135,000 men and 60,000-70,000 horses and mules – “the largest army yet assembled on the continent.” They rapidly marched from Warrenton and Harper’s Ferry in two days with a plan to cross prepositioned pontoon bridges, capture an empty or lightly defended Fredericksburg, and continue offensive operations toward Richmond.

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, consisting of 78,000 men in 43 brigades in two infantry corps, also had to be moved rapidly from march distances of 25-100 miles to occupy the heights behind Fredericksburg. Lee’s army would never be stronger.

Delays were crucial – the pontoon bridges were late, two Federal corps did not arrive in time for the battle – and indecisive and ill-considered commitment of forces in the attack brought about Union defeat and Confederate victory. When the AOP withdrew to Stafford on December 15, 1862, they had suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, including over 9,000 wounded. It took ten more days, until Christmas 1862, to clear the wounded from the Stafford hospitals.

The four-day battle was fought from Stafford. The “lynch-pin” of the battle and campaign to Richmond were the six pontoon bridges which were supposed to carry the AOP in action against Lee’s entrenched forces behind Fredericksburg. Their lateness in arrival permitted Lee to regroup his army from the Culpeper-Gordonsville and Winchester areas.