Fredericksburg

December 13, 1862: Battle of Fredericksburg

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“It can hardly be in human nature for men to show more valor or generals to manifest less judgment, than were perceptible on our side that day.”

Cincinnati Commercial in a report on the battle of Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg I think is the absolute nadir of Union fortunes in the Civil War.  After the sacking of McClellan, Major General Ambrose Burnside came up with a plan that wasn’t bad.  Burnside would take the Confederates by surprise by crossing the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg and then racing the Army of Northern Virgnia to Richmond.    Burnside arrived opposite Fredericksburg on November 17 and he had stolen a March on Lee.  Unbelievably the pontoon bridges were nowhere to be found, bungling of an almost preternatural nature being responsible for not placing them at the front of the Union advance.  Burnside sat on the river across from Fredericksburg for almost a month while Lee fortified the heights outside Fredericksburg.  The key for the success of the plan, surprise, had vanished.  Lee was present and in an immensely strong position.  It made absolutely no sense for Burnside now to cross at Fredericksburg and initiate a battle and yet that is what he did. Continue reading

The Angel of Marye's Heights

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Richard Rowland Kirkland is a name that should be cherished by every American.  On December 13, 1862 he was a sergeant in Company G, 2nd South Carolina.  The day was ending and his regiment was stationed at the stone wall at the base of Marye’s Heights overlooking Fredericksburg.  His unit had helped smash Union attack after Union attack, and now he looked over fields strewn with wounded and dead Union soldiers.  He could hear the wounded Union soldiers crying out desperately for water.

Unable to bear the cries any longer, he approached Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw and informed him of what he wanted to do.  Kershaw gave him his permission, but told him he was unable to authorize a flag of truce.  Kirkland said that was fine and he would simply have to take his chances.  Gathering up all the canteens and blankets he could carry, Kirkland slipped over the wall, realizing that without a flag of truce it was quite possible he would be fired upon by Union troops.

Kirkland began to give drinks to Union wounded and blankets to protect them from the cold.  Union troops, recognizing what he was doing, did not fire at him.  For hours Kirkland went back and forth tending to the enemy wounded.  He did not stop until he had assisted all Union wounded in the Confederate portion of the battlefield.  The last Union soldier he assisted he gave his own overcoat.  He was repeatedly cheered by both Union and Confederate soldiers. Continue reading

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