Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

By Earl J. Hess | Go to book overview

7 Fredericksburg

Lee went on the defensive after Antietam, and Lincoln replaced McClellan with Ambrose Burnside. The new commander devised a plan that might well have worked. The army was concentrated at Warrenton and would dash for Fredericksburg thirty miles southeast, cross the Rappahannock River, and head for Richmond, another fifty-five miles away. Burnside arranged for supplies and pontoons to be shifted to Fredericksburg in preparation for his move. Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner's Right Grand Division reached Fredericksburg on November 19, the same day that the leading elements of Lee's army arrived, but the logistical support was not there. The wharf facilities at Aquia Creek and the railroad from that place to Fredericksburg would not be operational for another week, and the pontoons also were missing due to a staff mix-up. These delays and mistakes forced Burnside to halt at Fredericksburg without crossing the river. Soon he was confronted by Lee and most of the Rebel army.1

The two armies would face each other in this spot for the next five months. Fredericksburg, nestled in the valley of the Rappahannock, was one of the oldest towns in Virginia. On the east side of the river rose Chatham Heights to an elevation of 100 feet. The small town of Falmouth also was here. The river lies at 60 feet elevation, and Fredericksburg is laid out on the bottomland of the west side, only 20 feet above the river. While the valley is comparatively narrow, it quickly widens on the west side as one travels south of town. The line of bluffs that ranges along the western edge of the bottomland made a superb defensive position, and the Confederates occupied it. Taylor's Hill, on the north, anchored the Rebel left and is as high as Chatham Heights. Marye's Hill is three-quarters of a mile from the river and directly west of Fredericksburg. Telegraph Road runs along the base of Marye's Hill and is sunken in places, with a stone wall holding up the eastern bank. A drainage canal ran north to south outside the town some 200 yards east of Telegraph Road. Farther south, Telegraph Hill offers a high and commanding view of the town and the bottomland below. The line of heights continues south to Howison's Hill and beyond, until a wide and deep ravine cuts into the bluff line. Here the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac

-154-

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Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Maps x
  • Preface xi
  • 1: Engineering War 1
  • 2: On to Richmond 28
  • 3: Western Virginia and Eastern North Carolina 47
  • 4: The Peninsula 67
  • 5: From Seven Pines to the Seven Days 96
  • 6: Second Manassas, Antietam, and the Maryland Campaign 130
  • 7: Fredericksburg 154
  • 8: Chancellorsville 174
  • 9: Goldsborough, New Bern, Washington, and Suffolk 200
  • 10: Gettysburg and Lee's Pennsylvania Campaign 215
  • 11: Charleston 241
  • 12: The Reduction of Battery Wagner 259
  • 13: From Bristoe Station to the Fall of Plymouth 289
  • Conclusion 308
  • Appendix 1 - The Design and Construction of Field Fortifications at Yorktown 315
  • Appendix 2 - Preserving the Field Fortifications at Gettysburg 331
  • Glossary 333
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 393
  • Index 417
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