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150 Years Ago: Tuesday, November 25, 1862

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1870'sSource: Library of Congress

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1870’s
Source: Library of Congress

In Washington City, Harriett Beecher Stowe and her 26-year-old daughter Hattie meet with U.S. President Abraham Lincoln at the White House for the first time. They had traveled from Andover, Maine for the occasion. Stowe had written the widely popular book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in 1852, which depicted a realistic view of a slaves lives in the South. Over 300,000 copies were sold in the first year, and it brought a great awareness to the topic as it touched upon subjects that were often ignored. As a result, it greatly strengthened the abolitionist movement and calls to end slavery practices in the South. It is said that Lincoln greeted Stowe by stating “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” Their conversation was held in private; Stowe would write to her husband that “I had a really funny interview with the President.” Stowe’s daughter Hattie was only slightly more informative: “It was a very droll time that we had at the White House I assure you… I will only say now that it was all very funny—and we were ready to explode with laughter all the while.

At 2:20am, U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside has finally received enough pontoon boats to make one bridge. He hopes that daylight will bring enough for two bridges as he has selected two specific sites for crossing the Rappahannock River into Fredericksburg, Virginia. Furious at Brigadier General Daniel Woodbury, who was in charge of delivering the pontoons days ago, Burnside had him arrested due to his perception that the boats were severely delayed due to Woodbury’s lack of urgency. Later that day Burnside receives a telegraph from President Lincoln: “If I should be in a Boat off Aquia Creek at dark to-morrow (Wednesday) evening, could you, without inconvenience, meet me and pass an hour or two with me? A. Lincoln”

From his headquarters near Fredericksburg, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sends a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis about the status of Burnside’s army. It has become clear to Lee that Burnside is going to try to take Fredericksburg and then head to the capital of Richmond; this theory is supported by reports in the Northern newspapers. However, Lee feels that he and his men have the advantage and Burnside is stuck in a no-win situation. He has witnessed a large gathering of Union troops by the Rappahannock River days before, and now only a few can be seen as they have moved back beyond visual range. Obviously things are not going smoothly for the Union. Lee believes that Burnside will continue with his plans even though Lee strongly predicts the plan will be unsuccessful and they can defeat the Union at Fredericksburg. Lee knows that if Burnside tries to change his plans now that it will be the equivalent of admitting defeat. Burnside must attack the Confederates here; he has no other option.

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