Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!

Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!

Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!

Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!


During the battle of Gettysburg, as Union troops along Cemetery Ridge rebuffed Pickett's Charge, they were heard to shout, "Give them Fredericksburg!" Their cries reverberated from a clash that, although fought some six months earlier, clearly loomed large in the minds of Civil War soldiers.

Fought on December 13, 1862, the battle of Fredericksburg ended in a stunning defeat for the Union. Confederate general Robert E. Lee suffered roughly 5,000 casualties but inflicted more than twice that many losses--nearly 13,000--on his opponent, General Ambrose Burnside. As news of the Union loss traveled north, it spread a wave of public despair that extended all the way to President Lincoln. In the beleaguered Confederacy, the southern victory bolstered flagging hopes, as Lee and his men began to take on an aura of invincibility.

George Rable offers a gripping account of the battle of Fredericksburg and places the campaign within its broader political, social, and military context. Blending battlefield and home front history, he not only addresses questions of strategy and tactics but also explores material conditions in camp, the rhythms and disruptions of military life, and the enduring effects of the carnage on survivors--both civilian and military--on both sides.


About three in the afternoon on that hot July day, the men in gray and butternut emerged from the woods and hollows near Seminary Ridge. With skirmishers in advance, they moved out smartly, confident they could once again whip the Yankees. They marched toward the Emmitsburg road and would converge on a clump of trees and a sharp angle in a stone wall on Cemetery Ridge. Only 13,000 they were, and yet they would have to cross three-quarters of a mile of gently rolling land to assault a formidable and well-prepared enemy.

Those soldiers, the men of Winfield Scott Hancock’s Second Corps—resting a bit after an earlier Confederate artillery barrage—beheld a stunning and magnificent and unforgettable sight: lines of troops moving across the undulating fields and climbing over fences, stopping to realign where the ground offered protection. Federal batteries began ripping the oncoming Rebs with shell and shrapnel. As the Confederates neared the Emmitsburg road, canister tore holes in the lines. Under this intense fire, the troops of James J. Pettigrew’s and George E. Pickett’s Divisions along with Isaac Trimble’s two brigades began losing their formations. Yet they continued to advance, their objective now in sight and seemingly in reach.

Most of the veterans on Cemetery Ridge knew how to prepare for what they termed hot work. As Pettigrew’s men crossed the Emmitsburg road and headed straight toward the stone wall north of the angle, soldiers from the 14th Connecticut poured a withering fire into them. “Give them Hell,” Sgt. Benjamin Hirst hollered. “Now We’ve got you. Sock it to the Blasted Rebels. Fredericksburg on the other Leg.” To the south, Pickett’s men also closed in on their objective. Except for a few sporadic shots, Alexander Hays’s and John Gibbon’s divisions held their fire until the Rebels got to within 300 or 400 feet of their line. With some skillful maneuvering and improvisation, they then poured their rounds into the front and both flanks of the stilladvancing Confederates. As New Yorkers and Ohioans curled around Pettigrew’s left and some Vermont troops swept down on the Confederate right, brigades from Pickett’s Division became badly intermingled. the swirling mass nevertheless pushed toward some rocky ground just south and west of the clump of trees, a section of the Union line held by two brigades of Gibbon’s division. With the Confederates no more than 100 feet away, men from the 20th Massachusetts rose and fired. “We were feeling all the enthusiasm of victory,” Capt. Henry L. Abbott reported, “the men shouting out . . .

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