U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac continues to move south, with many of the men having no idea of their final destination. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow soldiers from the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry are part of this massive movement; having a free moment, Rhodes writes in his diary:
“We are now five miles from Stafford Court House, twelve miles from Acquia Creek and fifteen miles from the city of Fredericksburg. We are encamped with our division in a large field. We left New Baltimore Sunday morning and marched to Weaversville on the Manassas Rail Road, not far from Cartletts Station. Here we camped for the night in the rain. Tuesday morning we marched to this camp. It is still raining and we are very uncomfortable and cannot tell where we are to go next.”
Across the Rappahannock River, north of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Burnside is at his headquarters where he can easily view his target. Burnside has taken over Chatham Manor, a home almost 100 years old, which contains the historical footsteps of individuals such as former President George Washington, current Confederate General Robert E. Lee, former President-Elect William Henry Harrison and current U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. While Burnside’s troops continue to gather in their designated areas, he is frustrated because they cannot move without one key piece of infrastructure: pontoon boats. The boats, needed for the mass of troops to cross the Rappahannock, were to have been in place by now, but they have yet to even arrive. Major General Edwin Sumner has attempted to find a ford to cross in order to take the poorly protected town of Fredericksburg, where there have been only 500 Confederate soldiers in force. But Burnside is nervous. He fears that Sumner’s force might be assaulted if they try to cross before the boats are in place and Burnside cannot move his entire army across the river without them. Sumner is ordered to wait for the pontoon boats; he will not be allowed to cross the river, take the town and the heights behind it. They will wait.
Just south of Fredericksburg, Confederate Major General James Longstreet arrives and places his men on the heights above the town, including a section called Marye’s Heights. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee is still unsure of Burnside’s final destination, but if it’s Fredericksburg he has made sure that his men have the better ground: the high ground.