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150 Years Ago: Monday, December 15, 1862


Just before light our Regiment was sent to the front and pushed behind the bank of a road. Here we lay all day watching the enemy’s forts. About 3 p.m. our Batteries opened firing over our heads, and as the Rebels replied the shots would cross in the air. It was not pleasant for us and somewhat dangerous.” — U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes

Throughout the night and into the day and during a bad storm, the Union army continues to retreat and makes a skillful and organized recrossing of the Rappahannock River. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee’s army doesn’t provide them much resistance at this point; they have held their lines, Richmond is safe, and the Union cost is high. Union casualties are 12,653; Confederates lose 5,377, though most were from the right flank under Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson’s Corp, who did not have as much time to dig in and did not have the protection of a stone wall. Even though the Confederate losses are much smaller, so is their population; it will be more of a challenge to bring in fresh recruits to replace the men they lost in this battle compared to the Union and their larger population.

Burial of Union Dead in Fredericksburg, 12/15/1862Source: Library of Congress

Burial of Union Dead in Fredericksburg, 12/15/1862
Source: Library of Congress

In Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, every building has been converted into a hospital for Union and Confederate wounded. Each side is burying their dead, though many of the Confederates will be taken back to their homes for burial or placed in cemeteries in Fredericksburg. Even with the battlefield still covered with blood, politicians in both the North and South begin their criticism. In Richmond, Virginia, where news of a victory should have been a reason to celebrate, there is instead questioning as to why Lee did not follow-up the successful defense of the heights above Fredericksburg with a counterattack. They ignore the crucial fact that even after U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside’s significant losses, Lee’s army is still outnumbered and heavy Union artillery is undamaged across the river at Stafford Heights. In Washington, fury against Burnside pours in from every direction. Reports from Major General Joseph Hooker are perhaps the most loud and damaging. President Abraham Lincoln is unable to criticize; he fired George B. McClellan for failing to move/fight. Burnside did what Lincoln had wanted, even if it wasn’t the plan Lincoln had suggested a week before when it was obvious that the situation had changed from when the original plan to take Fredericksburg and Richmond had been developed. Still, he could not chastise Burnside and knew that the politicians, media and public would demand answers.

Though Fredericksburg was a costly battle, nothing is gained on either side and the war continues.

U.S. Brigadier General John G. Foster continues his “Goldsboro Expedition”, and this morning in Kinston he paroles 400 Confederates he has captured over the previous few days. He recrosses the partially-burned Jones Bridge and then successfully burns the remainder of it to prevent a Confederate rear attack. Foster and his men proceed west toward Whitehall (now Seven Springs) and Goldsboro. They are within four miles of Whitehall before they stop for the night. Knowing that Foster is on his way, C.S.A. Cavalry Officer Beverly H. Robertson crosses the Neuse River and burns the bridge at Whitehall to help protect Confederate troops and a gunboat being constructed on the north side.

From Oxford, Mississippi, U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant writes a letter to his sister Mary Grant, who is watching his children as his wife Julia travels into Mississippi with his father Jesse Grant:

Dear Sister,

Yesterday I received a letter from you and the children and one from Uncle Samuel. Today I learn by telegraph that father is at Holly Springs thirty miles North of here. Julia is there and as I expect the railroad to be completed to here by tomorrow I look for them soon. I shall only remain here tomorrow, or next day at farthest; so that Julia will go immediately back to Holly Springs. It was a pleasant place and she may as well stay there as elsewhere.

We are now having wet weather. I have a big Army in front of me as well as bad roads. I shall probably give a good account of myself however not with-standing all obstacles. My plans are all complete for weeks to come and I hope to have them all work out just as planned.

For a conscientious person, and I profess to be one, this is a most slavish life. I may be envied by ambitious persons but I in turn envy the person who can transact his daily business and retire to a quiet home without a feeling of responsibility for the morrow. Taking my whole department there are an immense number of lives staked upon my judgment and acts. I am extended now like a Peninsula into an enemies country with a large Army depending for their daily bread upon keeping open a line of railroad running one hundred & ninety miles through an enemy’s country, or at least through territory occupied by a people terribly embittered and hostile to us. With all this I suffer the mortification of seeing myself attacked right and left by people at home professing patriotism and love of country who never heard the whistle of a hostile bullet. I pity them and a nation dependent upon such for its existence. I am thankful however that although such people make a great noise the masses are not like them.

With all my other trials I have to conduct against is added that of speculators whose patriotism is measured by dollars and cents. Country has no value with them compared with money. To elucidate this would take quires of paper so I will reserve this for an evenings conversation if I should be so fortunate as to again get home where I can have a day to myself.

Tell the children to learn their lessons, mind their grandma and be good children. I should like very much to see them. To me they are all obedient and good. I may be partial but they seem to me to be children to be proud of.

Remember me to all at home.

Your brother,

Ulys.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis is in Chattanooga, Tennessee to meet with General Joseph E. Johnston and to review the troop situation there. Even though he’s only been gone a few days, he writes a letter to his wife Varina back home in Richmond; he has yet to hear the news that Lee has been successful at Fredericksburg:

My dear Wife,

We had a pleasant trip & without an incident to related reached this place on the 11th. The troops in Murfreesboro were in fine spirits and well supplied. The enemy keep close within their lines about Nashville, which place is too strongly fortified and garrisoned for attack by troops unprepared for regular approaches on fortifications.

Many of your acquaintances made kind inquiry for you. Especially Genl. Hardee. I saw Joe Mitchell and Willie Farish, both were well. Last night on my arrival here a telegram announced the attack made at Fredericksburg. You can imagine my anxiety. There are indications of a strong desire for me to visit the farther West expressed in terms which render me unwilling to disappoint the expectation.

Mrs. Joe Johnston is well, not quite pleased with her location. Genl. Johnston will directly to Miss. and reinforce Genl. Pemberton. I saw Mr. Clay, who gives a discouraging account of the feeling of the people about Huntsville. He says the fear of the traitors is so great lest they should in the event of a return of the Yankees bring down vengeance on the true men that our friends look around to see who is in earshot before speaking of public affairs.

It is raining this morning and unreasonably warm. I have traveled constantly since starting and feel somewhat the want to rest, but otherwise am better than before the journey. Joe was a little unwell yesterday, but seems bright today. Many of the officers inquired for Col. Preston Johnston and felt, as I did, regret at his absence.

Kiss the children of their loving Father. They can little realize how much I miss them. Every sound is the voice of my child and every child renews them memory of a loved one’s appearance, but none can equal their charms, nor can any compare with my own long-worshipped Winnie.

She is na my ain Lassie

Though fair the lassie be

For well ken I my ain lassie

By the kind love in her eye.

Ever affectionately,

Your Husband

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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