The Battle of Fredericksburg Discussion
This is a copy of a discussion of The Battle of Fredericksburg that took place on July 13, 1997 in WebAmerica's Civil War Chatroom. The discussion was moderated by Irish, a Military History Professor at Pepperdine University. It began with a few opening comments from Irish and continued from there.
Irish's Opening Statement
Hello folks, hope we have a good one tonight. I was talking with Korky last night concerning Burnside at Antietam and I got the point that the army was indeed in a position where every loss needed a scapegoat. Burnside claimed that he felt he was being set up as a scapegoat for the Antietam battle when he was given orders to cross the bridge. It will be remembered that he was not in actual command of the Ninth Corps at that time. He was however, in command of that section of the field. This was a very clear notion that he was thinking. The best field general in the Army of the Potomac had just been brought up on charges for his actions at Second Manassas...that officer was Fitz John Porter. Burnside realized that he could be next. With McClellan's eventual ouster in the early portion of November of 1862, the idea of who was going to be the next scapegoat was clearly on the minds of all generals. Who would be next? Halleck, Franklin, Sumner, Hooker, or Burnside.
William Marvel (A Journal of the American Civil War Volume four, No. 4) Fredericksburg does, however, seem to be earning its deserved scholarly attention at last. Three generations have been subjected to Edward Stackpole's slanted and uncritical "Drama on the Rappahannock (Harrisburg, 1957), as well as his 1965 National Park Service publication on the battle. It is doubly unfortunate that the availability of those two sources has both crystallized the public image of that battle and discouraged more careful study of it, but at least the latter half of that misfortune seems to have come to an end. Serious examinations of Fredericksburg's various segments have surfaced during the past decade, and a comprehensive, professional analysis can be expected in the next few years from a Midwestern scholar (Gallagher).
William Marvel a noted Civil War author noted in The Fredericksburg campaign edited by Gary Gallagher says: "When Robert E. Lee spends more than five hours hammering the Federal position at Gaines' Mill, assaulting uphill on a constricted front against a strong entrenched enemy who is well supported by artillery, losing nearly 8,000 men in the process, he is called bold and ferocious. when Ambrose Burnside spends nearly five hours hammering Marye's Heights, assaulting uphill on a constricted front against a strong, entrenched enemy who is well supported with artillery, losing nearly 8,000 men in the process, he is called stubborn and stupid. In each case, the army commander operated in anticipation of a left-flank movement that never came. The only real difference is that when John Bell Hood told his Texans to rush at the enemy without firing and get in among them with the bayonet, they succeeded, whereas when Andrew Humphreys gave the same instructions to his division of untried militiamen, they failed.
I don't necessarily agree with Marvels ideas concerning Fredericksburg, but I do like to present in an unbiased way. Fredericksburg, no matter how you look at it was a Federal disaster, Burnside becomes the eventual scapegoat, so does Baldy Smith of the Sixth Corps, so does William Franklin of the Left Grand Division as well as others. Fredericksburg was a stepping stone in the career of Joe Hooker, but he in a way was responsible for the fiasco as well, as was General Sumner. I would like to begin tonight's discussion by hearing comments concerning what has been posted thus far. Please jump in.
Saber at [Jul 13 19:53:01]: Irish, I have a small piece from a soldiers diary pertaining to Fredericksurg I would like to post with your permission.
Irish at [Jul 13 19:54:20]: Lets see it Saber.
Saber at [Jul 13 19:56:38]: From the diary of Thomas Francis Galwey, 8th Ohio Infantry, Kimballs Brigade, French's Division, Couch's Corps, Sumner's Grand Division. "Late in the afternoon our regiment, being out of ammunition, and Hooker's Grand Division coming up to take over, we were withdrawn. After halting for about a half hour near the canal, we moved back up the low hill into the city. As dusk came on, a streak of fire came from every gun, cannon and bursting shell, so that the whole valley, and the face and crest of Marye's Heights were full of lurid flames. Above us the dark sky was interlaced in every direction with the streaks of light from the burning fuses of coursing shells. The roar of artillery, the awful crash ("rattle" is too weak a word for it) of musketry volley, and the cheers and yells of the two armies, made an excellent representation of Hell."
Irish at [Jul 13 19:58:07]: Definitely a very descriptive view of the battlefield, Saber.
Ashley at [Jul 13 19:59:10]: Where did you find this part of a diary?
Irish at [Jul 13 19:59:43]: Marvel, in his editorial found in Gallagher's "The Fredericksburg Campaign," believes that Burnside gets way too much criticism from 20th century authors. He claims that Franklin was the real culprit in the battle.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:00:57]: Burnside, to his credit, after the battle took full responsibility for the disaster with his superiors. That of course does not get him off the hook. I believe that once he got to Fredericksburg he had no idea what he was going to do. His initial plan to turn Lee's right flank was a good idea but the tactics he attempted to accomplish this with were a disaster.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:01:42]: A quote from a reference book Miss Ashley.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:02:55]: You are correct Saber, he sent his leading corps the Second, on a forced march to get to Falmouth, opposite the river from Fredericksburg to meet with pontoon bridging that would be there waiting for the lead brigades. They would throw the bridge across the river and cross immediately and take the heights west of the city. They would secure the bridge head and the rest of the army would cross and march for the North Anna River.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:04:23]: Franklin and Reynolds were planning a flanking maneuver using the full Grand Right Division on the night of the 12th. They had discussed this earlier with Burnside and he would issue the orders by midnight. The orders never arrived until the next morning and then told Franklin to use only one division for the attack.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:05:31]: General Halleck, in Washington was suppose to have sent the bridging immediately upon Burnside's request which was on the 14th of November if my memory serves. The Second Corps arrived at Falmouth on the 17th. The bridging did not arrive until, I believe eight days later. When the Second Corps got to Falmouth they could have walked across the river at nearly any point. In fact a small element of the Corps did cross, but were called back
Irish at [Jul 13 20:08:08]: Just for clarification the Right Grand Division was commanded by Sumner and included the Second and Ninth Corps. They would eventually hold the Federal right opposite the stone wall region. Left Grand Division was commanded by Franklin and included the First and Sixth Corps. They had the Federal left and were opposite Jackson's troops. The Centre Grand Division was commanded by Hooker, and was primarily used as a general reserve for both flanks.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:09:24]: Burnside did at first claim full responsibility for the fiasco. But later preferred charges against Franklin, Hooker, Smith and others.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:10:07]: I believe the original request Irish for the pontoons was sent on the 2nd. However it got lost. I don't believe the pontoons to be a big issue. As you state when Sumner arrived on the 17th of Nov. there were points where he could have walked his entire force. Some small force did and were called back when Brunside told Sumner under no circumstances to cross the river. Had Sumner done so with his entire force he very easily could have pushed out the small force Lee had in the city and taken the heights west of the city. Burnside's plan would have worked not the way planned but none the less it could have happened.
Buford at [Jul 13 20:12:55]: One of the things that amazes me about Ambrose Burnside is his complete misunderstanding of the use of cavalry. There were precisely three (count 'em, three) casualties in the Federal cavalry during the Battle of Fredericksburg. One of them was Brig. Gen. George D. Bayard, who had the distinct misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when he happened to catch a piece of shrapnel while approaching Franklin's HQ. My point is that had he properly used cavalry to scout and screen, he would have thought twice about the frontal assaults that he made.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:13:25]: Saber, what little I read, Burnside depended greatly on the pontoons arriving on time, when they failed, it seems his plan went out the window. He then talked himself into doom, death and destruction.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:13:44]: After the mud march Brunside went to Lincoln to oust the people you mentioned and some others Irish. He told Lincoln it was they or him. For once Abe had a no brainer.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:14:22]: The reason the Second Corps was called back by Burnside was because of a large showing of dark clouds to the west and north, near the headwaters of the Rappahannock. He was afraid that the Second Corps would cross and then be isolated on the wrong side of the river. The second question for tonight's discussion. Under what circumstances should the Second Corps have crossed the river? By themselves, with the possibility that they may get isolated. All corps cross the river no matter where they were on the march. No corps cross until they are brought up in mass. First question that I asked you to respond to was the comments concerning the comparison to Burnside and Lee at the beginning of my statements.
Buford at [Jul 13 20:15:08]: Burnside, IMHO, is a fine example of the truth of the Peter Principle in action. He certainly reached his level of incompetence well before the Battle of Fredericksburg, probably at Antietam, but he was far more politically palatable to the White House than Hooker, and hence the A of P suffered as a result.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:17:10]: That is true Matt. Burnside's reason was that he did not want one portion of the AOP over on the other side of the river for if there were storms, which did happen, they could be cut off and destroyed by Lee. Lincoln and Halleck were not thrilled with Burnside's plan and agreed only if the AOP were kept in a position where they could support each other. After what happened to Porter I'm sure Burnside had this on his mind.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:18:33]: Actually, spies, deserters, and scouts from the Union army had pretty much placed the entire Confederate army. There was no misunderstanding of the field to the front of Federal position. They also used balloons with minimal success. Burnside refused to acknowledge that there was a series of fences or canals between Fredericksburg and Marye's Height. He had ridden his horse on that field after he was recalled from the Carolina expedition. He was told about these obstacles, but chose to honor his own memory of the field he had ridden on. Nearly charged one of the Ninth Corps generals with insubordination when it was pointed out that there was indeed a canal that crossed the ground that was to be assaulted.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:20:27]: Burnside had, by the book, a 3 to 1 superiority in numbers which is what one needs to break a dug in force. HE mis-managed the force, at one time leaving some 24,000 sitting on their hands. Was his communications with his commanders that poor? And his commanders lined up their men, once they did manage to cross, as on a parade ground, giving the arty folks, my buddy John Pelham, a field day. Am I advancing the argument too far into the battle?
Matt at [Jul 13 20:23:15]: Buford, while Burnside was not the best choice, Lincoln forced the issue, Burnside refused, twice the offer to take command. I'm not sure why he took it on the third offer, to protect 'Little Mac'?
Matt at [Jul 13 20:23:41]: Sumner wanted a fight a Fredericksburg. I believe to exonerate his actions at Antietam. His Second Corps commander Couch and the Ninth Corps commander, Wilcox or Cox, I'm not certain both were very worried about the canal and fences that crossed the field that they were instructed to carry. They angrily voiced their opinion to Sumner and Burnside as to how murderous this attack would be. Burnside, thought that the disruptive general staff of the two corps was being fueled by Hancock, who was a division commander, and took Hancock to task in front of the entire Right Grand Division general officers for being on verge of being placed in a court martial situation.
Buford at [Jul 13 20:24:11]: No, Matt, actually it was because the order was posed as "If you don't take the command, we will give it to Hooker". Burnside hated Hooker, so he went along with it.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:25:53]: Irish, given the disposition of Lee's troops at the time Sumner arrived I believe you have to cross the river. With only a small force in the way of achieving your goal you have to do it. The heights would have been easily taken and perhaps the shoe would have been on the other shoe. As the rest of the AOP arrived they could have been placed in support of Sumner. They had the race to Fredericksburg won but did not take advantage. Fatal mistake.
Buford at [Jul 13 20:27:53]: Saber, of course, the other option is to not cross, but to flank Lee out of that strong position. To my mind, that strategy makes the most sense of all.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:28:05]: Matt, I'm afraid that I must point out that even though Burnside had enough men to "by the book" defeat a defensive position, when did Lee ever correspond to what was written in military manuals. In the entire Civil War, the book was thrown out the window, so to speak.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:29:00]: Actually Matt, Burnside had discussed the plan to strike with the left grand division against the right flank of the Confederate army. He had nearly 65,000 men at his disposal. Burnside wanted Franklin to march his troops along the road that parallels the Rappahannock to the South and then face west after gaining the flank. He would then roll the flank up. Had Franklin done this at an early time, lets say 5:00 in the morning, five hours before the fog would have lifted, he could have done exactly what Burnside had wanted. However, Franklin was very worried about his own flank. If he made the march that was contemplated by Franklin, he would have placed his command in a position where Jackson could flank him. Early and D.H. Hill were not in the vicinity until 10:00. However, had Franklin done exactly what Burnside had wanted, he would have indeed got on Jackson's flank as it existed prior to 10:00 a.m. His left would therefore been exposed to D.H. Hill and Early coming up from the South.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:29:44]: At a meeting before crossing the river Brigadier General Rush C. Hawkins of Getty's Div. IX Corps and Col. J. H. Taylor of Sumner's staff told Burnside that what he was planning was pure murder. To quote Couch, "there were not two opinions among the supporting officers as the the rashness of the undertaking."
Ashley at [Jul 13 20:30:40]: Col S. Lee did follow a military manual. Napoleons, as exhibited at Gettysburg.
Buford at [Jul 13 20:31:35]: Ashley, if you are referring to Col. Stephen D. Lee, as I suspect you are, he was not at Gettysburg. What are you referring to?
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:31:47]: Correct Ashley, but what happened to him at Gettysburg? At Chancellorsville he split his already divided force in the face of the enemy. The exact wrong thing to do according to ALL manuals.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:32:07]: Buford why give up a strong defensive position to your enemy just to drive them out of it when you don't have to? I understand your point a would agree if Lee had been on the heights west of the city on the 17th but he was not.
Ashley at [Jul 13 20:33:41]: I was referring to Robert E. Lee as Col S. guessed correctly.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:34:00]: Irish, why Sumner picking the fight, Burnside had been told to Charge Richmond and at Fredricksburg he was 'bout halfway 'tween D.C and Richmond at, what looks like the last river crossing point. He had eluded Lee up to a point, the fact that the pontoons arrived late seemed to have nailed him in place. I think he spent two weeks looking at the river wondering how in the heck he got himself in that crack. That and the arguing that was going on among the cdrs..No, Yes?
Saber at [Jul 13 20:37:06]: Matt it was Burnside's plan to go to Fredericksburg, winter there, and move on to Richmond. That Richmond was the objective of his strategy rather than the destruction of the ANV was its fatal flaw. Brunside showed, as Hooker did at Chancellorsville, that he could not adapt to changing circumstances. One thing for sure about any battle is they are not going to go as you plan.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:37:14]: Franklin's biggest mistake was something that Franklin could not over come. He was afraid of being court-martialed. He had shown no real ability on the Peninsula, nothing at Antietam, and was showing nothing now. If he would have assaulted early in the morning as Burnside's orders not so clearly state, then there was a chance for a victory. He could have gained Jackson's flank, however he would have had to fight D.H. Hill and Early coming in from the South. He had the Sixth Corps which was fairly large, the First Corps commanded by Reynolds, the Third Corps was nearby, and the Fifth Corps could have been shifted very easily. Actually with 20th century 20/20 hindsight...Franklin was the key to victory, and nearly every 20th century Fredericksburg historian realizes it. However, Franklin had no idea of what was in front of him. He had a general location of Jackson's corps. He knew that a couple of divisions had been sent south to Snicker's Neck along the Rappahannock to dispute a possible cavalry crossing there, but he was not going to be responsible for the annihilation of the left grand division. Generals in the Federal army were more concerned about losing than thinking clearly about winning.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:37:50]: ColS, granted Lee rewrote some tactical books, Fredricksburg was not Lee's fight. The book says with 3 to 1 advantage in numbers you can overcome a dug-in enemy. Burnside had the numbers, how he played them was his choice.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:39:51]: In another discussion I would really like to dispute Lee's use of the Napoleonic manual in regards to Gettysburg. I think he went clearly away from it during that battle. But that will be for another time.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:40:12]: 'scuse me ColS., the book says you NEED a 3-1 advantage to dig out the enemy, how it's played is something else.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:40:41]: Irish, how much of a part do you believe the unclear orders issued by Brunside effected both Sumners and Franklin's actions?
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:40:58]: If you look at the stats of the ANV, the more Lee left the book, the more he won. Did Jackson not hold the railroad cut at Second Bull Run against overwhelming odds? It had been done many times before. Just because a book, that was written years before, and that did not take into consideration new fire arms and technologies, just because the book says it can be done, doesn't mean that it's possible.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:44:31]: Matt, if you have ever stood atop Marye's Heights and looked down you will know immediately that this was not your normal entrenched position the book speaks of. While I agree that attacking such a position piece meal or any entrenched position in that manner is begging for disaster. Burnsides plan was for Sumner to fight a holding action there and Franklin to turn Lee's right. How this was going to happen using two divisions, wide spread on the battle field, is beyond me.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:45:47]: Saber, I think that is the key to Franklins behavior. Burnside was notorious for writing unclear orders. I wish I could show them to you, but nearly everyone would have a different interpretation of what they meant. Franklin, using the Napoleonic manual, as well as many other military manuals did not feel comfortable in shifting his army without developing his front. That was only right. He did the next best thing. He assaulted the front where he thought he would most likely have success. However, he was still not expecting any success. He pushed Meade's division forward, with Gibbon following slightly to the right, and used Doubleday for a possible reserve. The Sixth Corps wasn't ready to do much of anything, even though they had a night to prepare.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:46:07]: Exactly ColS, Lee fought a slightly more modern war than the Yanks, especially in the early years. Early on the war was fought on 17&18th C tactics, maneuver, fire at close range until the other guy gives. With rifled barrels, it was very costly, Lee used cover and concealment, (read dig in and wait till you see the whites of their eyes) a novel approach to warfare.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:47:23]: In my opinion, the Federals didn't have a chance against Marye's Heights. Less than one-third of Longstreet's entire corps was engaged, and all of the major fighting on Longstreet's front took place in front of the stone wall, well in front of Longstreet's main line. But no victory comes without loss, and in Fredricksburg, the loss was two of the South's finest Brigadiers at that stone wall.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:48:55]: Saber, how so?, Marye's Heights held the high ground, with a wall that was reinforced, it was perfect. Shucks, they could have rolled rocks on top of them and saved the ammo.
Bretzky at [Jul 13 20:50:13]: So why attack at Marye's Heights in the first place? Burnside's explanation that he would surprise Confederates by attacking their most fortified position just doesn't work for me.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:50:31]: I have read some of the orders Irish and they are confusing. Franklin followed what he believed they meant pretty close to the letter. He had 40,000 troops at his disposal but followed the order of one division making the attack. Doubleday as you say was in reserve and watching Stuart's Cavalry. When they didn't use the cavalry that was attached to Franklin's Grand Division to watch Stuart and use Doubleday in the attack doesn't make any sense. Then again most of this battle from the Union perspective didn't.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:50:52]: Actually, nobody had a clue as to what Burnside was planning to do. He had several meetings with Hooker, Franklin, and Sumner, and could never get a consensus as to what to do. Hooker wanted at first to flank the Confederates near Port Royal south of the present line. When Burnside finally agreed with that idea, the roads had gotten bad, and the flanking attack was called off. They could hardly move. They tried to get cavalry down there, but the roads would not support their move. Sumner wanted to fight. Franklin did not want an attack until they could be sure of what was in front of them. He wanted a clear picture of the flanks. They knew Longstreet was secured on the Rappahannock. The Corps commanders, almost all of them, if not all, wanted a complete change of positions. They realized that they did not have a ghost of chance on that field once Jackson's corps had gotten there.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:51:16]: Plus Matt, the Confederate uniform itself is much harder to see at any range than the Federal blue. The Civil War showed what happened when , in the words of Shelby Foote: "The weapons outdated the tactics." They were using tactics for muskets that had a range of twenty yards, and rifles that had a range of 400. In my opinion, no massed assault like the one in front of Marye's Heights, no matter who made it, or what circumstances governed it could have succeeded.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:51:27]: The way the Heights were hit, I agree, ColS frontal assault was not the way, why Burnside or Franklin did not push the flanks, is beyond me, that would have been the key, methinks. Just enough on the front to keep 'em occupied and smack the flanks.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:53:55]: Matt, that is what I am saying. When they wrote the book on needing a three to one superiority to successfully attack an entrenched position they were not thinking of Marye's Heights. That equation went out the window with that formidable defensive position.
Irish at [Jul 13 20:54:08]: Why attack Marye's Height? If Franklin is doing what Burnside thinks he is doing...rolling up the Confederate right flank, then Longstreet cannot shift troops to help Jackson. Also if a retreat is being ordered because of Franklin's flanking maneuver, then Longstreet would be damaged greatly. I know, it doesn't hold any water, but that is the interpretation that Marvel gives in his writing.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:54:13]: Plus Jackson's divisions were spread out to cover the approaches to the right flank of the army. All the divisions were in position to re-enforce each other within a day. And I am confident that any one of Jackson's divisions could have held out that long.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 20:56:32]: I have studied a few maps of the Confederate positions, and I came to the conclusion that a flanking maneuver would have been impracticable, and very, very costly due to the Confederate artillery. The ground was not well suited for maneuver, especially at that time of year.
Matt at [Jul 13 20:57:28]: Ok, I see, Saber, to hit Marye's Heights 10 -1or greater would have been needed, and the river would have run red.
TreeFrog at [Jul 13 20:57:40]: I'm sorry I don't know how much of this you have discussed but Burnsides plan was to attack the center and the move out from the center and in from the flanks. With the position that the Confederates held in the center, Infantry at the base of Marye's Hgts behind the stone wall and artillery on top of Marye's Hgts, this plan was destined to fall, I think we all pretty much agree on this, correct. So wouldn't it had made more sense to attack the flanks, were the Confederates were as well entrenched? Sorry if this has already been discussed.
Bretzky at [Jul 13 20:57:47]: Irish -- I think this may all lead back to Buford's post earlier about having cavalry scouting the flanks. Burnside would have known what was happening on the Confederate right and could have made the necessary adaptations to his battle plan. (If he had the ability to adapt mid-battle at all)
Buford at [Jul 13 20:58:21]: My point precisely, Brett.
Saber at [Jul 13 20:58:40]: That was the plan that Burnside put forward in the meeting I referred to Irish. No one in the room save for Brunside gave it a shot in h... I believe what you said earlier is key to this battle. Brunside had no idea what he was going to do and in essence fought not to lose instead of to win.
TreeFrog at [Jul 13 20:59:49]: Franklin did, lightly, engage on the left. In all the attacks made by him the Sharpshooters served at the front and usually started the assaults.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:00:21]: Who can say what odds would have been needed? Longstreet could have either abandoned the stone wall, and held to his main line, or he could have re-enforced the stone wall brigade by brigade. Longstreet had a network of trenches above the stone wall so great that even Jackson examined them, and copied them exactly. He was in a much better position than many think. And men that took the stone wall would still be under short range artillery fire that would have reduced the wall, and they're attack to rubble.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:02:29]: From what I understand about the cavalry maneuver to Skinkers Necks was that it was to be supported by Federal gunboats. This idea was to explore the possibility of turning the right flank. However, the roads would not support a cavalry movement. When orders were being sent from Burnside's headquarter near Fredericksburg to Franklin a normal fifteen minute trip by horse, was taking over an hour because couriers could not ride, because of the slippery conditions of the road. They had telegraph, but did not place much on the reliability of the equipment.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:02:56]: Jackson had two divisions in reserve on the left. Longstreet has just as many, maybe more on the right. Any flank assault would not have caught them off guard and without reserves. Especially on the Confederate right due to the military road Jackson had built.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:03:02]: In my opinion if you look at Lee's entire defense line the only way you could dislodge him was with a flank attack. Above Fredericksburg the are many good fords that Burnside could of used to cross the river. Much the way Hooker did. If Burnside was fighting not to lose though that would not have worked either. On the other hand it was, in my opinion, his only chance.
Matt guest at [Jul 13 21:03:06]: ColS, they did try a flanking maneuver on the Confederate right and Pelham's two guns stopped 18,000 dead in their tracks, then Jackson had a go at them.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:05:31]: I thought that they were attack towards the front, and Pelham's two guns just sent enfilading fire down the attacking columns. If they were attacking the flank, they would have been moving on a right oblique to the Confederate front, and therefore Pelham wouldn't have been able to enfilade their line. So they were attacking towards the front.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:06:08]: Make that a left oblique, sorry.
Matt at [Jul 13 21:07:14]: ColS, my mistake, you're right, frontal assault on extreme right flank.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:07:24]: Actually Matt, the attack where Pelham's guns were brought into action flanked Meade. Neither Meade nor Franklin understood the front well enough to know whether they were on a flank or not, and as we all know they weren't. The flanking maneuver in question is for Franklin to go further south along the Rappahannock and then face west which would have put him in a flanking position. This is what Burnside wanted, but did not communicate very well. The cavalry could not be used because of poor roads in that vicinity. Hooker wanted this maneuver to take place many days prior to when it actually did take place, when roads would have supported the cavalry maneuver. He also mentioned a prototype plan of the Chancellorville pincer movement prior to the attack at Fredericksburg, in order to get Burnside to change in mind. Burnside wasn't in the habit of listening to Hooker, whom he despised.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:09:22]: It was suppose to be a flanking attack Col. Meade turned up the wrong road or he went where he thought he could break through. Meade's and Gibbon's Division were the only two in the attack and Pelham did delay them but did not stop them. Pelhams was indeed gallant that day but those two divisions did not total 18,000 men.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:10:01]: Also, you must remember that Stuart had two brigades of cavalry on the Confederate extreme right. And the Federal cavalry was not yet up to par with that of the Confederate.
Buford at [Jul 13 21:10:55]: It was getting close, Stoughton. By this time, John Buford was the chief of cavalry for the A of P, and it had several good brigade commanders, such as Bayard and Pleasonton. It was up to the task.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:11:44]: What really seems strange about the Pelham part of the battle is that Pelham could stop two divisions with his small battery, and it took Doubleday's division to force Pelham to retreat. Where was the Federal guns at on the Federal left flank? It would seem that when you have Reynolds and Smith on the same portion of the field that something smart could have happened. Franklin isn't the only person to blame here.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:11:48]: Well, no disrespect to you sir, but we will never know if they were really up to par with the Confederates.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:12:31]: It was a strange battle in that respect Col. No cavalry, Stuart's or the Union's was engaged.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:12:50]: Stuart's cavalry played a minor roll in the battle due to the nature of the roads.
Buford at [Jul 13 21:13:10]: Since the Federal cavalry was not engaged in any way, there really was no reason for Stuart to be engaged, Saber.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:13:44]: Well, the Federal guns were firing at him the whole time of his advance. They did disable one of the two guns. Yet Pelham did not retreat, and with that one gun still kept them at bay.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:14:24]: I think that the cavalry was coming into its own by the time Fredericksburg was happening, however, you must have an army commander who knows what to do with them. Burnside certainly was not the commander to fully use the cavalry. Hooker saw their worth, but could get no satisfaction from Burnside.
Matt at [Jul 13 21:14:28]: Saber, what I read was it was three divisions that made the assault, ten brigades, 46 regiments and 11 batteries of arty. 'Course I'm only familiar with my one source. "History (or battle formations ) is what I say it is".
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:16:09]: As the extreme flank of a defending army, Stuart's men may have been called in to stop an infantry advance until re-enforcements could come up. If I am not mistaken, Stuart's lines completely enfiladed the Federal right wing. And one thing I have always wondered about: What if Stuart charged into the Federal flank?
Irish at [Jul 13 21:16:55]: There may have been a few guns fired at him, but none were being moved into an angle to reach him, since he was well hidden between hills. You have to move guns into position before they are effective, and the Federal guns on the left flank had not been moved to fight a foe in the position where Pelham had moved his guns. They were situated to support fire from Meade's front. They should have been moved quickly to help out. This is a fault of not only Franklin but also Reynolds and Smith.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:18:42]: Matt of the 19 Federal batteries that crossed the river only 7 fired a shot. Six thousand Confederates and 20 guns held off at Marye' Heights 7 Union Divisions whose battle strength exceeded 40,000. Only 4 of Lee's infantry division were engaged during the entire battle, a small percentage of the available artillery and, sorry Buford, no cavalry.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:18:46]: There have been many people who have questioned the reasoning behind not using a counter attack. Some blame Lee for this, in that Jackson requested it.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:19:49]: Well, I'm sure that they did not wish to move too many guns across the river, in case of a retreat. That always seems to be the first fault of generals: They plan for losses.
Matt at [Jul 13 21:19:51]: I think Pelham's stopping the two/three div, was due to surprise, plus Pelham was not the usual Confederate Arty Cdr, he hit what he aimed at. Big problem with Confederate arty, they overshot more times than they hit. (That was a problem at Gettysburg, Alexander shelled the rear).
Saber at [Jul 13 21:21:13]: The odds are Stuart would have been slaughtered Col. Stoughton
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:21:26]: Well, any counter attack would have been over open ground, with those hundreds of guns across the river looking down at them. I think that Lee was wise in his decision.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:22:00]: According to Burnside, in his statement to the Joint Committee, he claims that the attack on Franklin's front was where the main attack was suppose to be delivered. The Attack on Sumner's front was to be an offensive holding action. His orders are not clear in that regard in that you don't order a division front attack if you are planning to roll up the entire Army of Northern Virginia.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:23:08]: I suppose your right Saber, for the same reason that Jackson would have been slaughtered.
so191 at [Jul 13 21:23:09]: After Pelham lost his one gun in the very beginning, he hooked up his other gun and moved it after every shot, therefore hanging on and really messing up Meade for about 30 minutes.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:24:12]: Col, they already had plenty of guns across the river, there is no excuse for the non-deployment of the guns that they had at their disposal. The artillery reserve, of which Hunt was commanding are the guns that held Stafford Heights. Each corps had their own guns as well, and they were on the west side of the river as were the guns of the Second and Ninth Corps on the right flank.
Matt at [Jul 13 21:24:27]: You got it, so191, shoot and scoot, any artillery commander knows that principle.
so191 at [Jul 13 21:25:17]: Irish. Burnside's "grand division' commanders did not know his orders until Burnside gave them at the meeting with the Joint Committee for the war months later.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:25:46]: Jackson did think of a counter attack when he was not attacked again by the Union the next day. In his Official report he said he ordered it but it was delayed. Then he wrote, "the first gun had hardly moved forward from the wood 100 yards when the enemy's artillery reopened, and so completely swept our front as to satisfy me that the proposed movement should be abandoned."
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:25:58]: Well, I'm not an army commander, and I wasn't there, but wouldn't take guns over those rickety bridges in the first place!
Matt at [Jul 13 21:26:49]: OK, why didn't they use the guns, Irish, lack of a way out if caught or no coordination with assaulting commanders?
TreeFrog at [Jul 13 21:28:04]: Saber, Jackson was on the union left, confederate right, correct?
so191 at [Jul 13 21:29:00]: Irish. They did not use the guns etc. because Burnside was a wimp. On both assaults he ordered to use one division each to take both Jackson and Longstreet.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:29:11]: Correct TreeFrog.
TreeFrog at [Jul 13 21:29:39]: Are you talking about the 14th there?
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:31:06]: Well, if you consider that the Union forces at Jackson's front didn't even know where the Confederate line lie before the battle commenced, then how would the guns have been effective? hey discovered the line with the main body, and unless you wanted them firing into they're own men, they would have had to wait until after the assault failed.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:31:36]: General Couch actually brought his guns out on the field to help his troops retreat behind. Why Reynolds didn't do it to help his command out, I have no idea. Only know that it was possible had that sector of the army been more involved with trying to win the battle. So191, what you said about the commanders not knowing the plan is pretty much true. They were given unclear orders, but it wasn't until the Joint Committee investigation that they all saw exactly what Burnside had developed.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:33:00]: Col are you just arguing to argue. Those guns could be moved at a moments notice. There were many that were limbered and ready to go. I don't get your point.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:33:39]: With the exception of Meade, Gibbon, French and Hancock it is possible that no Union commanders had a clear picture of what they were supposed to be doing. Not the way to win a battle.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:36:45]: Well, they didn't know at first where Jackson's lines were. And until they could do a large scale reconosence (sp) they would not know. And they never did do one. So the attack went forward and only then did they find the exact lo cation of Jackson's lines. And only then, when they knew where Jackson's men were, would the artillery know where to fire. But they couldn't fire then, because the Federals were already engaged with them. And until they were farther away, the Federal guns would have hit they're own men. So I don't see how the Union guns could have been used without knowing where Jackson's lines were.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:37:50]: I am not even certain that those four commanders had a clear picture. They had a clear picture of their own fronts, but I don't think anyone understood the full scale of things. This is something that both Hooker and Franklin pointed out to Burnside prior to the assault, in fact many days prior. It goes against all principles of modern war to not attempt to flank an entrenched enemy, and how can you flank if you haven't developed him? Franklin basically asked Burnside this question a couple of days prior to the movement across the Rappahannock.
so191 at [Jul 13 21:38:14]: Saber and Irish. I think that none of the commanders, Meade, Gibbon or anyone had any idea. Burnside ordered Franklin and Sumner to take )as we know)first Jackson's position, and then Longstreet's with one division, to " sweep the Confederates off" their respective hills. Burnside knew he was in deep "do-do" when his pontoons did not arrive on time and he was "hoping" for the best.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:39:17]: To me, all Burnside wanted to do was attack Lee. He saw him, and therefore attacked him. That's how I interpreted his battle plans.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:40:41]: Col, once Jackson's line or Pelhams guns were discovered, the guns could have been moved up quickly to help out. This never occurred. In fact, Pelham wondered why they had not tried to dispute his position by moving guns into a more effective position. He had found a position that he expected to be able to lob a few shells from to merely harass. When he found that he was not being disputed, and realized that he had stopped a strong movement on the part of the enemy he was totally amazed. My point is that guns can move, and they should have been moved in order to dispute Pelham more effectively.
so191 at [Jul 13 21:41:15]: ColStoughton, the Spy. Exactly correct. Burnside was under pressure from Lincoln to do something. Well he did it, and did it poorly.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:42:24]: No pomp, not grand maneuvering, Burnside was not, in my opinion, a very gifted man. And he thought that his full frontal assaults would win on shear numbers. He didn't think that he needed tactics. Even though Lee had more men than he ever had, and had a stronger position than he ever had, and had better subordinates than he ever had, the list goes on and on. Surly, Burnside did not weigh the odds, and would not listen to anything else. Very reminiscent of Pickett's charge might I add.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:42:39]: Burnside took a command that he felt he was not qualified to hold. It is a shame that 13,400 Union causalities later everyone know what Burnside had known all along.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:43:36]: Actually, Lincoln met with Burnside just a few days before the attack. He had thought that Burnside had lost the initiative and did not think much of Burnside's plan to fight it out on the Fredericksburg line. Burnside convinced him to let him have a try. It is true that Lincoln wanted quick action, but in his time frame, that time had passed once the fording of the Rappahannock had taken so much time.
so191 at [Jul 13 21:44:03]: Irish. Your point on the guns is well taken and correct. I believe that the commanders, again, did not know what Burnside wanted, how to develop a battle plan, and therefore did what they perceived they had to do without a whole lot of enthusiasm.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:45:33]: you are right in that Pelham was allowed to do far too much. Personally, I can think of no better example of that sort of thing. And Saber, perhaps Burnside was far, far to pessimistic to the point that he willed himself into losing the battle. I think that we all agree that generals have to be confident if they are going to win.
so191 at [Jul 13 21:46:38]: ColS. Excellent analogy to Picketts.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:47:08]: There were two batteries that went forward with Meade and Gibbon. They did fine work as along with the infantry forced 12 Confederate guns away from the railroad. Problem was once those Reb guns were and the Reb skirmishers had fallen back it allowed the Confederate artillery in the woods on both flanks to open on these batteries. They didn't stay out there to long.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:47:34]: Burnside was one of the many, many generals that did not take control of opportunities that were not in the plan, or ones that were not easily recognizable. The trait that would make or break a general. i.e. Meade's breakthrough.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:48:39]: I have read Gary Gallagher's book on Fredericksburg which really takes the earlier Stackpole publications to task as well as the early Civil War Times articles to task. His point is that Burnside made a mistake in assaulting the position at Fredericksburg. However, had Franklin, Smith, and Reynolds done their jobs that it is possible that the flank could have been reached and destroyed. We will obviously never know. It does seem strange that when you consider the talents of command possessed by Reynolds and Smith that something more than what happened could have occurred on the Federal Left Flank. The assault at the stonewall was a fiasco in any stretch of the imagination. It had no chance of success unless Jackson was being rolled up, and the order to attack should never have been given until confirmation of the flanking maneuver was confirmed.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:49:11]: So191 you could throw Malvern Hill, Franklin and Cold Harbor in that analogy as well.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:49:58]: Also, you must remember from the maps that any, and all attacks on the (Federal) right side of the line of trees that Meade charged into would be under murderous enfilade fire from Longstreet's guns on Marye's Heights. So the Confederates in that position had it very easy, thus freeing up more troops to plug holes. Though I doubt if they would have ever been needed.
ColStoughton at [Jul 13 21:52:20]: I am still confident that even if the Federals had gone around Jackson's flank Jackson would have been able to hold them off with his two reserve divisions, and with Stuart's brigades of cavalry.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:52:35]: Would each of you summarize your feelings concerning the use or misuse of the Federal Army at Fredericksburg. Thanks for the remarkable exchange.
Saber at [Jul 13 21:53:05]: There is no telling Col what would have happened if Meade's and Gibbon's attack had been supported by the full weight of the troops available. One thing is that if the gained control of the military road they could have swept down behind the Confederate lines.
Buford at [Jul 13 21:53:38]: Fredericksburg was proof positive that Ambrose Burnside lacked the tactical and strategic vision to command an army. The result, of course, was the butchering of his army.
Irish at [Jul 13 21:58:05]: Summary: I believe that Burnside was ultimately responsible for the disaster at Fredericksburg. He show little or no ability to command a large line of troops. He gave his left wing very poorly written orders that kept them in confusion for at least 24 hours surrounding their movement or lack of movement. He disliked Hooker to the point that he would not do some of the common sense things that Hooker was proposing with the movement to Skinkers Neck in a cavalry maneuver to develop the enemy flank and rear. I also believe that Reynold, Smith, and Franklin must take some responsibility for not being prepared to support the movement by Meade and Gibbon. If you are going to make an assault even if it isn't much more than a demonstration you must be ready to support in case something good happens.
Bretzky at [Jul 13 21:58:45]: Bretzky's summary: The Federal defeat at Fredericksburg shared a key similarity to the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. In both cases the commanding General of the losing side was without his eyes and ears. The major difference was, IMHO, that Gen. Burnside did not know he was missing two of his senses and had he received his sight and hearing, he still wouldn't have known what to do with them. He was fighting the battle according to what he thought was going happen, rather than what was actually happening. Without knowing the status of Franklin's offensive, Sumner's corps served as nothing more than target practice for Longstreet's well-entrenched Confederates on Marye's Heights. While Gen. Burnside's confusing orders may have made the battle a lost cause before it ever began, his inability to adapt to a changing battle scenario sealed the Confederate victory. Perhaps Lt. Henry Curran of the 146th NY summed it up best when, following the crushing defeat, he said "The slaughter is terrible -- the result disastrous. Until we have good generals it is useless to fight battles."
CoLStoughton at [Jul 13 21:59:48]: Surely, Fredricksburg is the most appalling example of the waste of a crack fighting force. One of the best armies in the world was man-handled and squandered by commanders that were either well past they're prime, or should not have been in their positions in the first place. So many good, strong men were wasted learning so little. While the battle may have proven without a doubt that a fortified enemy in a strong position could not be stopped if he was determined enough, that lesson was still not applied in future battles. But different men learn they're lessons by themselves. A wise man once said, "A normal man learns from his own mistakes, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others, and a fool never learns from anyone's mistakes." And what you must wonder is if any of the Federal commanders were even normal men. Surely there were some wise men, and unfortunately quite a few more fools. But these are mistakes that this country could not afford to make, because these mistakes were made in blood.
Saber at [Jul 13 22:04:25]: Longstreet in his Official Report stated that, "The enemy continued his advance and made his attack at the Marye Hill in handsome style. He did not meet the fire of our infantry with any heart, however, and was therefore readily repulsed." I guess from Longstreet's position it may have seemed that way to him. The Union troops made I believe eight separate attacks against the stone wall. Of the Union's 13,353 casualties 3200 were for the divisions of Hancock and French, the first divisions thrown against the stone wall. The valor and determination of the Union soldier at Fredericksburg was never surpassed on any battlefield of the CAW. Once again the soldier was subject to the total incompetence of the Commander of the AOP. He sent them on the field without their superiors having any idea of what was trying to be accomplished. Burnside earned and deserves the entire blame for the blood bath that was Fredericksburg.
so191 at [Jul 13 22:05:00]: Summary: I believe, that after months of frustration, the fault(or reason) lies with Lincoln. He is the one that gave command to Burnside, who in his(Burnsides) own admission, was not up to the job. Lincoln allowed Burnside to feel he was under pressure to produce. Burnside developed a wonderful plan to attack at Fredericksburg, but this went to the wayside when the pontoons did not arrive. It is Lincoln's responsibility to have commanders who are competent and capable, (i.e. Halleck.) to assist in coordination. Burnside was above his reach, the Peter Principle was in full effect, and countless soldiers paid the price.
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