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150 Years Ago: Friday, December 12, 1862


"The Ransacking of Fredericksburg"Source: Library of Congress

“The Ransacking of Fredericksburg”
Source: Library of Congress

Now occupying the city, the Union men loot the city with a vengeance. The wholesale looting angers the Confederates, who watch it all from Marye’s Heights. U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside spends all day moving the rest of his army across the Rappahannock River and organizing for the upcoming battle. He still believes that he has deceived C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee by crossing at the city.

Senseless property destruction is uncontrolled. U.S. Major General Darius Couch would later describe the scene: “There was considerable looting. I placed a provost-guard at the bridges, with orders that nobody should go back with plunder. An enormous pile of booty was collected there by evening. But there came a time when we were too busy to guard it, and I suppose it was finally carried off by another set of spoilers.

C.S.A. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Corps is guarding the river downstream near Port Royal. Up until now, Lee was not certain that Burnside’s main crossing would be at the city. But as he watches the Union army cross over, he orders Jackson’s Corps to quickly move to Fredericksburg. As Jackson’s men arrive, they take over the right flank from Lieutenant General James Longstreet’s men. Lee’s strength is now at 72,500 men against Burnside’s 114,000.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes quickly writes in his diary:

We were relieved from picket duty and joined our Brigade which was formed in line of battle near the river bank. By this time the entire left grand Division had cross and the plain was covered with soldiers and Batteries of Artillery. About noon Artillery on both sides opened and one shell exploded in our Regiment. In fact one Rebel Battery on a hill seemed to have the range of our Regiment and a few men were hit.

Oliver Wendell Holmes JrBorn in Boston, Massachusetts to a prominent writer and physician and his abolitionist wife Amelia Lee Jackson, 21-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. loves literature and is a proud abolitionist. Graduating from Harvard in 1861, he enlisted in the Massachusetts militia and eventually received a commission as a First Lieutenant in the 20th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. While the rest of Holme’s Regiment is at Fredericksburg, he is laid up at a Union hospital in Falmouth, Virginia, where he decides to kill the agonizing time by writing his mother:

These have been very trying times for me I assure you. First after being stretched out miserably sick with the dysentery, growing weaker each day from illness and starvation, I was disappointed in getting my papers sending me to Philadelphia by the delay at the various headquarters & the subsequent business causing them to be overlooked. Then yesterday morning the grand advance begins. I see for the first time the Regiment going to battle while I remain behind. A feeling worse than the anxiety of danger, I assure you. Weak as I was I couldn’t restrain my tears. I went into the hospital – the only tent left here – listless and miserable. They were just moving out a dead man while another close to death with the prevailing trouble (dysentery) was moaning close by. In the Hospital all day with no prospect of being moved or cared for, and this morning we hear the Regt. has been in it. Exaggerated rumors; then it settles down that poor (Charles F.) Cabot is killed – and several, among them my 2nd Lt wounded. The cannonading of yesterday hasn’t recommenced this morning but the day is young and I expect before night one of the great battles of the war. I was on the point of trying to get down there but found I was too weak for the work. Meanwhile another day of anxious waiting. Of helpless hopelessness for myself, of weary unsatisfied questioning for the Regiment. When I know more I will continue my letter. I have no books I can read I am going to try to calm myself by drawing, but now four days have passed in disappointed expectations. Later.

About thecivilwarproject

Like many others, I have a passion for the Civil War era, and for decades have chosen to spend my much of free time researching this topic - particularly the people, as the human component is what I find most fascinating. The site is not a source of revenue for me, nor is it tied in with a company or individual behind the scenes. It is my own personal venture. It is because of this genuine bond of respect and affection I feel towards this period in our history that I created "The Civil War Project." If this is your first time visiting the site, I welcome you and thank you for your interest. If you have any feedback or questions, please feel free to contact me at thecivilwarproject@yahoo.com.

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