From First to Last: The Life of Major General William B. Franklin

By Mark A. Snell | Go to book overview

11
“The Radical Thirst for Blood”:
The Battle of Fredericksburg

AFTER MONTHS of despair that accompanied one battlefield defeat after another, the soldiers of the Army of the Potomac finally could point to a triumph. It was a limited success, however, for if McClellan had found the resolve to continue the contest, he probably could have destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia. “You have heard of our fight, and what I consider our victory,” Franklin announced to Anna in his letter of September 19. “The enemy left during the night…. Both parties too fatigued to fight yesterday. We are ordered to be in readiness to march at once, so that I presume we are going in pursuit.”1

Franklin did not know it, but it was too late to catch the Confederate army. Lee and his soldiers already had escaped across the Potomac River via Boteler’s Ford, located three miles south of Sharpsburg and about a mile downstream from Shepherdstown, (West) Virginia. Late on September 19, a raiding force from Porter’s corps splashed across the river and surprised the Army of Northern Virginia’s rear guard, but Stonewall Jackson counterattacked and repelled the Union force early the next morning. This bloody yet relatively insignificant action marked the final episode of the Maryland Campaign.2

Franklin admitted to his wife that, although he believed his corps would have made a successful attack on September 19, he was relieved that the Confederates were gone. “Between ourselves I was not sorry that it was so, for our Army is too tired & too much diminished in numbers (the old troops, I mean) to be able to do a great deal of work. My corps has lost more than a thousand men since it left Washington & I presume its losses are less than those of any other.”3 Franklin was partially correct; only the Fifth Corps,

1 WBF to AF, 19 September 1862. Franklin Papers.

2 “Report of Maj. Gen. Fitz-John Porter, U.S. Army, commanding Fifth Army Corps, at the battle of Antietam, skirmish at Blackford’s or Boteler’s Ford, and action near Shepherdstown.” OR 19 (pt. l):339–40.

3 WBF to AF, 20 September 1862. Franklin Papers.

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