Shades of Blue and Gray: An Introductory Military History of the Civil War

By Herman Hattaway | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
The Fredericksburg Campaign
A Study in Generalship

R. E. Lee heads almost any list of the Confederacy’s greatest generals, and surely he was remarkable, in many ways a great combat commander. But Lee is not without his critics. The historians Thomas Lawrence Connelly Jr. and Allan Nolan have recently opined that Lee was too provincial, concerned almost exclusively with the war in Virginia; and worse, he was too aggressive, far too reckless, and willing to spend much of the South’s undeniably limited resources and numbers for inadequate return. Occasionally Lee enjoyed good luck, and certainly any general’s performance improves when fortune favors his endeavors. At Antietam, for example, he was simply lucky that McClellan did not annihilate his army. Within the nine months following, President Abraham Lincoln would employ a series of three new eastern army commanders. Against Ambrose E. Burnside, at Fredericksburg, Lee enjoyed the great luck of having his opponent hurl a fatal assault frontally into well-emplaced defenders.


Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside in Army Command

“Burnside is a brick!” or so did many persons proudly proclaim as they repeated the most often spoken assessment of the new Army of the Potomac commander. Elevated to his position on November 9, 1862, Burnside was considered well qualified for army command, but in truth his selection was hard to justify. Following his 1847 graduation from the Academy, he had seen only garrison duty before resigning his commission in 1853 to enter business.

Manufacturing a type of breech-loading carbine he had invented, Burnside had hoped to achieve financial independence. The carbine was a reliable and

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