This Week in the Civil War: Battle for Fredericksburg
On Dec. 11, 1862, Union troops sneaked forward under the pre-dawn fog to begin building pontoon bridges crossing the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg, drawing Confederate fire. Midway between the federal capital of Washington, D.C., and the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., Fredericksburg was a strategic point for both sides.
The Union commander, Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside, then ordered a bombardment opened up on the city. The fierce bombardment lasted nearly two hours as thousands of shells and projectiles rained down on the city.
Amid the bombardment, Union soldiers crossed in boats to the other side and block-by-block street combat began – a rarity in the conflict.
The full body of federal forces crossed the Rappahannock on Dec. 12, 1862, and Burnside ordered a series of deadly and ineffective frontal assaults on two heights in the city, leaving thousands dead and wounded. Even though Union forces briefly pierced the main Confederate line, they were repulsed.
By Dec. 15, Burnside had canceled the offensive and his battered and beaten forces retreated across the river. The fighting engaged some 100,000 Union troops and more than 72,000 troops under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
When it was over, there were more than 13,000 Union casualties and some 4,500 others on the Confederate side.
After the Union’s defeat, Burnside would be replaced a month later at the head of the Union army by yet another general.
– The Associated Press