Edwin V. Sumner

This tag is associated with 6 posts

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 27, 1862

America continues to be the one theme that occupies the world’s tongue and thought. The Rappahannock has been crossed in the face of the whole Confederate army; and by the time these pages reach the reader a battle will probably have been fought upon which great issues may hang. If the Confederates are the winners it will go far to establish, as an unquestionable fact, their military superiority, and to inspirit them, in spite of all difficulties, to new exertions and struggles. But if they are beaten their position will be a most dangerous one. General Sumner has also, and on an earlier day, crossed the river some miles further down, and from that point was almost within a day’s march of Petersburg and its railway, which is connected with all the railways of North and South Carolina, and must be the chief line for bringing supplies to Lee’s army. Sumner, therefore, in the event of a Federal victory at Fredericksburg, would be ready to make a flank attack on the retreating army; and that most dangerous measure under the circumstances could only be evaded by the Confederates retreating by a different and circuitous line to Richmond, so that the Federals would probably be able to reach the Confederate capital first. Much, then, depends upon the battle at Fredericksburg, which we are told by telegrams arriving at the moment we write had actually begun.

The Alabama threatens to become a source of trouble between our own and the American Governments. If the responsible advisers of the Crown say the English law of enlistment has been violated by the building and fitting out of such a vessel in our country, it will be of course our duty to offer amends. But if no law has been violated the Americans must learn to be less susceptible, to annoyance, and direct their energies rather to the capture of the offending vessel than to angry abuse of us. Meantime we cannot but own the Americans are doing a very handsome act in contributing so largely to the wants of our operatives.

– – The London Times

The final Emancipation Proclamation is to be issued in a few days and many are nervous that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may change his mind. He spends the day meeting with various members of Congress and clergymen on the issue, one of them Dr. Bryan Sunderland, who tells the President that “We are full of faith and prayer that you will make clean sweep for the Right.” Lincoln leans forward in his chair towards the clergyman and says “Doctor, it’s very hard sometimes to know what is right! You pray often and honestly, but so do those across the lines. They pray and all their preachers pray honestly. You and I don’t think them justified in praying for their objects, but they pray earnestly, no doubt! If you and I had our own way, Doctor, we will settle this war without bloodshed, but Providence permits blood to be shed. It’s hard to tell what Providence wants of us. Sometimes, we, ourselves, are more humane that the Divine Mercy seems to us to be.

John A. McClernandSource: Library of Congress

John A. McClernand
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. Major General William T. Sherman’s troops move their way through the swamps and bayous as they make their way towards Vicksburg. They are engaged in small skirmishes against Confederate pickets as Lieutenant General John Pemberton rushes troops in from the north to defend the strategic Confederate city. Sherman is waiting to receive additional assistance from Major General John McClernand, though he lacks respect for the man and is not looking forward to working with him. McClernand has proven himself to care more about using his political connections to advance his rank than to actually earn his promotions. Very few men respect or trust him; and they probably shouldn’t, as he is one of the key people responsible for spreading the word to politicians and the press that U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant is a drunk. Of course, if Grant is forced to step down because of this, McClernand naturally assumes he will obtain Grant’s position of Commander of the Western army. He has already been working closely with Illinois Governor Richard Yates to gain control over the Vicksburg campaign and authority to execute his own plan that goes against what Grant already has in motion. He knows that capturing Vicksburg will be a huge win for the Union; if his plan is the successful one, he will gain the credit and fame. But for now, Grant’s orders – backed by Washington – put him under Sherman’s control.

In Tennessee, U.S. Major General William Rosecrans continues his march towards Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg and his army of over 20,000 are stationed in defense of the city.

150 Years Ago: Saturday, December 13, 1862

Today is U.S. First Lady Mary Lincoln’s 44th birthday. But 52 miles south of the city there is no celebration; instead, the day brings the most senseless slaughter that the country has seen to date.

Marye's Heights Today (this would have been open land between the city and this point at the top of the hill)Source: TCWP

Marye’s Heights Today (this would have been open land between the city and this point at the top of the hill)
Source: TCWP

With most of U.S. General Ambrose Burnside’s troops now across the Rappahannock River, the Confederates expect an attack. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee knows his position is a strong one; most of his men are located on Marye’s Heights, which overlooks the city. The Confederates have a stone wall for protection and the high ground. All they have to do is wait for the Union troops to come to them, which will be no easy task. They have to advance through 200 yards of cannon fire without cover, cross a narrow canal over three small bridges, and then advance against Confederate infantry lined up firing down on them from behind a stone wall. Lee and one of his most trusted Generals, James Longstreet, look to Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, who has been responsible for setting each piece of artillery now aimed at the enemy. Lee believes that artillery will be key in winning this battle. When asked by his superiors for an assessment of their preparedness, Alexander states that “A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.

Across the Rappahannock River at his headquarters at Chatham House, Burnside issues his attack orders early in the morning. He calls for an assault against Jackson’s Corp by Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division, after which will follow an advance against Marye’s Heights by Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division. Burnside uses ambiguous and hesitant language in his orders, which may reflect a lack of confidence in his plan or his uncertainty of Lee’s troop positions.

Battle of Fredericksburg MapSource: Library of Congress(Click to Enlarge)

Battle of Fredericksburg Map
Source: Library of Congress
(Click to Enlarge)

Burnside believes that he is only facing part of Lee’s army on the heights behind the city. He plans to use artillery on Stafford Heights to control the battlefield on either side of the river. While Sumner moves towards the heights as a diversion, Burnside will take Franklin’s stronger left wing and have him storm the ridgeline south of the city, taking Lee by surprise. Once the ridgeline is taken, Franklin is to sweep north into the city while Sumner’s wing continues the attack on the heights. The final goal is the same for both Franklin and Sumner: seize Marye’s Heights.

Franklin and his key Major Generals, John F. Reynolds and William “Baldy” Smith, agree that the best way to defeat Lee is to roll up Jackson’s front. They had waited until 3am that morning for instructions, thinking they would move early, but instead they don’t receive a go-ahead until 7:30 a.m. As they read Burnside’s instructions, they find that it is not an approval for an all-out attack. One division “at least” is to seize the heights near Hamilton’s Crossing “if possible”, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open. The rest of the command is to be in position for a rapid move up the old Richmond Road towards Maryes Heights, which will only work if Jackson falls back towards the city.

Reynold’s 1st Corps is picked for the drive up the heights with approximately 5,000 men. The privilege of leading the assault goes to the Pennsylvania Reserves, led by Major General George Meade. Reynolds chooses them because he trusts the men and their commander more than anyone else. At 8:30 a.m. Meade leads his three brigades towards Jackson’s position. Jackson’s men put up a difficult fight. At one point Jackson feels his men are losing their position; he orders the “Rebel yell” and his men slam into the exhausted and outnumbered Pennsylvanians. One Union private will later say that “The action was close-handed and men fell like leaves in autumn. It seems miraculous that any of us escaped at all.

Part of the Stone Wall Today (Replica)Source: TCWP

Part of the Stone Wall Today (Replica)
Source: TCWP

Sumner receives similar orders from Burnside, using the same language to send one division “at least” to attack Marye’s Heights. Sumner waits until the fog finally lifts at 10 a.m. and then begins to line up his troops in the city streets. Around noon, the first brigade under Brigadier General Nathan Kimball marches out of the city and towards the heights. As they reach the canal ditch they encounter a bottleneck, which is spanned by partially destroyed bridges established at only three locations. Once they cross, they try as best as they can to reform their lines and march up the muddy slope towards the stone wall. The Confederate artillery and massed musket fire opens up a storm around them once they are within 125 feet of the wall; Kimball is severely wounded and his men suffer 25% casualties. None of them reach the wall. Some start to run away from the fire, but most get on the ground with some attempting to fire at the stone wall but with no impact.

An hour later at 1 p.m., Major General William H. French sends out two additional brigades, and the same thing occurs: the men march out of the city, they bottleneck at the canal, they reform lines and make their way up the muddy slope, only to be fired upon by Confederate shells in every direction. These two brigades suffer 50% casualties.

Thomas Francis MeagherSource: Library of Congress

Thomas Francis Meagher
Source: Library of Congress

Sumner now looks to Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and his men. Hancock first sends in Brigadier General Samuel K. Zook, followed by the famed Irish Brigade led by Brigadier General Thomas F. Meagher. Thirty-nine year old Meagher, originally from Ireland, had been the leader of the Young Irelanders in Ireland’s Rebellion of 1848. He had been convicted of sedition and sentenced to death, but instead was transported out of Ireland to Australia. In 1852 Meagher had made his way to the U.S. and settled in New York City, where he studied law, worked as a journalist and held traveling lectures on the Irish cause. He had joined the army immediately at the start of the Civil War and encouraged Irish immigrants to support the Union by joining what was eventually his “Irish Brigade,” which has an outstanding reputation. By complete coincidence, Meagher and his men are aimed at attacking an area at the stone wall defended by fellow Irishmen of C.S.A. Colonel Robert McMillan’s 24th Georgia Infantry. One of the Confederates spot the Irish Brigade’s green regimental flags approaching them and cries out “Oh God, what a pity! Here comes Meagher’s fellows.” But McMillan orders his troops to “Give it to them now, boys! Now’s the time! Give it to them!” Meagher’s men come very close to reaching the stone wall but are repulsed; 545 are killed, wounded or missing out of 1,200. One of the men, U.S. Private Josiah Marshall Favill, will later write that:

“Immediately the hill in front was hid from view by a continuous sheet of flame…The rebel infantry poured in a murderous fire while their guns from every available point fired shot and shell and canister. The losses were so tremendous, that before we knew it our momentum was gone, and the charge a failure. I wondered while I lay there how it all came about that these thousands of men in broad daylight were trying their best to kill each other. Just then there was no romance, no glorious pomp, nothing but disgust for the genius who planned so frightful a slaughter.

By 2:15 p.m. one of Burnside’s staff officers wires his boss regarding Franklin’s Left Division, stating that “Meade and Gibbon badly used up…enemy in force and threatening on left…engaged now heavily in front…too late to advance either to left or front.” There are men waiting to be used, but they are never called in to assist. The Pennsylvania Reserves had gone in outnumbered six to one and against a very strong position held by Jackson; they suffer 40% casualties.

Around 2:30 p.m. Burnside orders continued waves of assaults on the Confederates, convinced he can break through. Brigadier Samuel Sturgis’s brigade attacks and are all thrown back with terrible losses. Not a single soldier gets to the stone wall. As Lee watches the slaughter, he turns to Longstreet and says “It is well that war is so horrible, or else we should grow too fond of it.

After more than two hours of fighting, four Union divisions have failed to take the heights; there are already 5,125 casualties. No progress has been made. Rather than reconsider his approach, Burnside continues to order the same path. He sends orders to Franklin to renew his assault on Jackson’s troops and now orders his Center Grand Division led by Major General Joseph Hooker to cross the Rappahannock into the city and take the same path to the heights as the others who have gone before him.

First Hooker personally performs reconnaissance  – something Burnside nor Sumner had done – so he can assess the situation. He returns to Burnside’s headquarters and advises him against the attack. While Burnside and Hooker argue, the Confederates take the time to strengthen their position even more by adding Major General George Pickett’s division and one of Major General John Bell Hood’s brigades to reinforce Marye’s Heights. The Union men still on the field continued to fight or to take cover as best they can, using their dead comrades as shields. Though he had not received orders from Hooker, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield sends his division over to relieve Sturgis’s men, but they are hit hard by sharpshooter and artillery fire and provide no effective relief to Sturgis.

Section of the original Stone Wall; it was 4 feet high at the time of battleSource: TCWP

Section of the original Stone Wall; it was 4 feet high at the time of battle
Source: TCWP

A soldier in Hancock’s division reports movement in the Confederate lines that lead some to believe that the Confederates might be retreating. Though this seems unlikely, a division of Brigadier General Andrew A. Humphreys is ordered to attack and capitalize on the situation. Humphreys leads his first brigade on horseback, with his men moving over and around fallen troops with fixed bayonets and unloaded rifles; some of the fallen men clutched at the passing pant legs, urging their comrades not to go forward, causing the brigade to become disorganized in their advance. The charge reaches within 50 yards of the wall before being cut down by concentrated rifle fire.

By 4 p.m., Hooker returns from his meeting with Burnside, unable to convince him to stop the attacks. While Humphreys is still attacking, Hooker reluctantly sends in Brigadier General George W. Getty, but this time focuses on the leftmost portion of Marye’s Heights. They move along an unfinished railroad line and are able to get very close to the Confederate line without detection in the gathering twilight, but eventually they are detected, fired upon and repulsed.

Humphrey's Division Charge "The Last Major Assault"Source: Library of Congress

Humphrey’s Division Charge “The Last Major Assault”
Source: Library of Congress

At 6:30 p.m. it is dark. Franklin never did follow Burnside’s orders for a second attack towards Jackson’s position. Despite strong protests from his generals, especially Winfield Scott Hancock, Burnside orders his reserves to march over the river and attack the stone wall. Humphreys’ men are told the previous attacks have failed because the men stopped to fire their weapons. They advance with unloaded weapons, planning to use only bayonets. As Hooker watches the last assault, he says “I think I’ve lost as many men as my orders required.

Seven Union divisions had been sent in, generally one brigade at a time. There was a total of fourteen individual charges that resulted in 6,000 to 8,000 casualties. Confederates losses at Marye’s Heights total around 1,200. C.S.A. James Longstreet later would write that “The charges had been desperate and bloody, but utterly hopeless.

As the mounted courier/orderly for Brigadier General Orlando M. Poe, Frank Thompson (aka Sarah Emma Edmonds, a female disguised as a male so she could enlist in the Union Army), had been in constant motion and often close to the hottest action during the battle as she spent the day riding up and down the lines carrying messages and relaying orders. The only time in 12 hours that she got off the saddle was to assist an officer of the 79th New York, who lay writhing in agony on the field, having been seized with cramps and spasms and was in extreme pain. Emma provided him with some powerful medicine that got him back on his horse, at his General’s side, within the hour. While many noticed “Frank’s” bravery that day, not everyone was as heroic. Thompson would write that “I never saw, til then, a man deliberately shoot himself, with his own pistol, in order to save the rebels the satisfaction of doing so, as it would seem. As one brigade was ordered into the line of battle, I saw an officer take out his pistol and shoot himself through the side – not mortally, I am sorry to say, but just sufficient enough to unfit him for duty. He was carried to the rear, protesting that it was done by accident.

From behind the Union lines, London Times reporter Francis Charles Lawley witnesses the wholesale bloodletting:

There, in every attitude of death, lying so close to each other that you might step from body to body, lay acres of the Federal dead. Within the town layers of corpses stretched in the balconies of houses as though taking a siesta. More appalling to look at were piles of arms and legs, amputated as soon as their owners had been carried off the field.”

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes with the 2nd Rhode Island Volunteers would later write about what he experienced today:

We slept upon our arms last night and daylight this morning found us in line. The battle began at an early hour and the shot and shell screeched and screamed over our heads. To our right we could see the fight going on for the heights beyond and back of Fredericksburg. General Sumner tried to take the hills but failed. The city was on fire in several places, and the noise was deafening. We could see the long lines of Union troops move up the hill and melt away before the Rebel fire. But we were not idle, although at times there would be a lull in our front and we could watch the fight on the right. At 3pm our Regiment was sent down to the left of the line and ordered to support a Battery. This was no fun for us, for we had to stand the Rebel shells fired at the Battery. Just at dark the firing ceased, but what a scene was before us. The dead and wounded covered the ground in all directions. Ambulances were sent out to pick up the wounded, but the enemy opened fire upon them, and wounded were left to suffer. During the evening if a match was lighted it would bring a shell from the Rebel forts on the hills. At 8pm we were ordered to the rear and our Division rested for the night.

That night “Frank” Thompson rides three miles south from her camp to Franklin’s headquarters to obtain instructions for the morning. Franklin’s house, once owned by Mr. Barnard, has been destroyed from the fighting. Along they way she is haunted by the constant moans from the wounded. The night is bitterly cold, which is causing extreme suffering. Major General Darius Couch would write “as fast as men died they stiffened in the wintery air and on the front line were rolled forward for protection to the living. Frozen men were placed like dumb sentries.” For Emma, this was the darkest night she has witnessed in her military career.

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, December 9, 1862

Robert Todd LincolnSource: Library of Congress

Robert Todd Lincoln
Source: Library of Congress

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln may be the leader of a country at war, but he is also a father. He receives correspondence from Thomas Hill, the President of Harvard, where his oldest son Robert is attending school to obtain his law degree. Hill informs the President that the faculty had just approved public admonishment of his son for smoking in Harvard Square after he had privately been warned not to do so. No doubt the subject will be approached when Robert comes home during the holidays.

U.S. Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes notes in his diary that “We have found a name for this section: Belle Plain. We are all ready to move and probably will have to cross the Rappahannock River and attempt to drive the Rebels from Fredericksburg.

U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside calls for council of war with the leaders of his three Grand Divisions: William B. Franklin, Joseph Hooker and Edwin V. Sumner. Burnsides argues C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee is not expecting them to cross at the city and attack Fredericksburg, so therefore that is their best option. The three generals do not agree with Burnside; they take the plans back to their camps to share with their corps, division and brigade commanders, and again there is blatant and bitter opposition. Most vocal are Major Generals Darius N. Couch and Winfield Scott Hancock, who believe it will not only lead to a loss, but a complete, senseless slaughter of Union men.

Burnside is unable to convince those around him of his firm belief that he has Lee right where he wants him. He now turns to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington for support, writing:

“I think now the enemy will be more surprised by a crossing immediately in our front than any other part of the river. I’m convinced that a large force of the enemy is now concentrated at Port Royal, its left resting on Fredericksburg, which we hope to turn.”

After giving the situation a little more thought, President Lincoln sends a follow-up message to Brigadier General Henry Sibley in Minnesota regarding the 39 he had sentenced to execution a few days ago. He realized that a lot of the Indians had similar names, so Lincoln cautions Sibley to take special care to make sure that the correct Indians are put to death and to not hang an innocent Indian as a result of simple name confusion.

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, November 26, 1862

George Robertson is a long-time Kentucky lawyer and professor who once served as legal counsel for Abraham Lincoln and other Illinois heirs of Robert Todd, Mary Lincoln’s now deceased father. George and U.S. President Lincoln have been exchanging correspondence since September, when Lincoln issued a preliminary version of the

George RobertsonSource: Library of Congress

George Robertson
Source: Library of Congress

Emancipation Proclamation that now is set to go into effect in almost a month. Robertson had complained to Lincoln that Union troops were “forcibly detaining the slaves of Union Kentuckians” and asked him to prevent such an action. To make matters worse, the policy has now personally affected Robertson as one of his slaves fled to the camp of the 22nd Wisconsin Infantry, commanded by Colonel William Utley. Per established Union military guidelines on how runaway slaves should be treated, Utley enforced those rules and not only refused to return the slave but also banned Robertson from visiting the camp. In retaliation, Robertson – now a judge – had Utley indicted for harboring a slave and sued him in a U.S. District Court. Lincoln has been receiving exasperated correspondence from Utley and Robertson on the matter. Lincoln takes up his pen and proposes an offer to Robertson in an effort to end the situation:

My dear Sir: A few days since I had a dispatch from you which I did not answer. If I were to be wounded personally, I think I would not shun it. But it is the life of the nation. I now understand the trouble is with Col. Utley; that he has five slaves in his camp, four of whom belong to rebels, and one belonging to you. If this be true, convey yours to Col. Utley, so that he can make him free, and I will pay you any sum not exceeding five hundred dollars. Yours, A. LINCOLN

Lincoln hopes that his offer to pay Robertson for his runaway slave will be accepted; then the charges against Utley are dropped and more importantly, Robertson’s slave is free and no longer has to feel threatened that his old master may forcibly bring him back. It’s an interesting but not a rare situation, to have someone in support of the Union but still wanting to keep the institution of slavery intact.

In Richmond, Virginia, Confederate President Jefferson Davis is writing a more urgent letter to the governors of the Confederate states. He appeals for aid and assistance in enrolling conscripts (their version of a military draft) and in securing more supplies (guns, clothing and food) for army use. In addition, Davis strongly pushes for the continued use of slave labor in building defensive works for the army. If the slaves can do the hard manual labor in building the defenses, then the Confederate Army can reserve their energy for fighting and winning battles. The use of slaves for military purposes is a difficult thing to ask for, as many Southern women are relying on slave labor to help keep the farms running and afloat while their husbands are away fighting for the cause.

Union Commanding General Ambrose Burnside cannot catch a break. He has his pontoon boats, but Confederate General Robert E. Lee has his cannons and arms aimed at the Rappahannock River; if Burnside’s men try to connect the boats to build the two bridges needed for the army to cross, their position will be attacked. Also, in his haste to move quickly and take action in his new leading role, Burnside had failed to establish a working supply line. He had ordered train depots at Aquia Creek to be rebuilt weeks ago, but only today a working rail line is finally established so the large army can be supplied with food and other necessary goods.

Burnside had began the Fredericksburg to Richmond campaign with vigor, but now he found himself stuck. The rain continued to fall and the river was rising. The fords were all becoming impassable, especially for his army of over 110,000. The roads were a sloppy, muddy mess, which slowed any travel by foot or wagon. He has always been focused on crossing at Fredericksburg, but now that Lee’s troops are firmly and well positioned, Major General Edwin Sumner, leader of the Grand Division that would be the first to cross, asks Burnside to reconsider as he felt the move would mean undeniable slaughter of his men. Sumner suggests that Burnside “look down the river” instead.

From Washington City it was clear to President Lincoln that his new General that was so quick to move is now frozen and going nowhere. He had seen it before with previous General George B. McClellan, but Lincoln, as he had done with McClellan, thought that maybe if he met with Burnside one-on-one he could boost his confidence and talk Burnside into taking some kind of action. Without notifying his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton or General-In-Chief Henry Halleck, Lincoln makes his way to Acquia Creek, Virginia and arrives late that evening with Burnside there to greet him. They go aboard the steamer Baltimore almost immediately; but it is too late for such a serious discussion. Lincoln decides that both should get a good night’s sleep and the true meeting of the minds can wait until morning.

In Baltimore, Maryland, nine-year-old Thomas “Tad” Lincoln has been spending the last couple of days at Barnum’s Hotel with Augustus “Gus” Gumpert, a well-to-do Philadelphia tobacco dealer that Mrs. Lincoln conducts business with and also a man whom Tad is very found of and considers his friend. Joining them is Thomas Cross, a White House messenger who is often charged with looking after Tad. Gus receives a telegram from Mary Lincoln, who has been on yet another shopping trip in New York City; she is leaving for Washington and would like Mr. Cross to come back with Tad tomorrow. It’s possible that the Lincoln’s knew they would both be away from home and thought Tad would be happier away from the city on his own adventure instead of left behind at the White House.

 

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, November 19, 1862

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.”

Chatham Manor 1862Source: Library of Congress

Chatham Manor 1862
Source: Library of Congress

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.

150 Years Ago: Friday, November 14, 1862

Ambrose E. Burnside
Source: Library of Congress

The new commander of the Army of the Potomac, U.S. Major General Ambrose E. Burnside, has presented his plan to take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. It calls for the army to move forty miles south to Fredericksburg, Virginia, located across the Rappahannock River. Once his troops have assembled there he will advance south to Richmond. His plan gives protection to Washington City, which U.S. President Abraham Lincoln greatly appreciates. When Lincoln consults with his General-In-Chief Henry Halleck over Burnside’s plan, they both express concern that he is focusing solely on capturing Richmond instead of defeating C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee’s army, but approve the plan anyway with the warning to Burnside that he must act quickly.

Burnside reorganizes the command structure into three Grand Divisions:

  • Right Grand Division – Edwin V. Sumner
  • Central Grand Division – Joseph Hooker
  • Left Grand Division – William B. Franklin

Burnside immediately sends Sumner’s corp of troops to occupy the vicinity of Falmouth, located near Fredericksburg; the rest of the army will soon follow.

James Birdseye McPherson, 1862
Source: Library of Congress

At Grand Junction, Tennessee, U.S. Major General James B. McPherson celebrates his 34th birthday. He has risen very quickly in the ranks since joining Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee as a Captain in the Army Corp of Engineers in late 1861. With his efforts in helping to capture Forts Henry and Donelson, Grant saw the great potential in this calm, compassionate and intelligent West Point graduate. He now waits for Grant to move the troops into place before they begin to set out for their target of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Midterm elections for the U.S. House of Representatives have been ongoing since October in the various states and the results have not been positive for Lincoln and the Republican party. Approximately 27% of the Republican seats are lost; though they only hold 46% of the House, 25 Unionists (a group of pro-war Democrats who broke with their party during the previous Congressional session) agree to side with them so they can maintain the majority. The losses are due to critical disapproval of the Lincoln administration to deliver a quick end to the war along with rising inflation, new taxes to help pay for the war effort, draft law, and fears that freed slaves would undermine the labor market. While the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation gains votes with the more abolitionist areas of New England and the upper Midwest, it accounts for lost votes in diverse cities like New York and Philadelphia, as well as the lower Midwest.

The U.S. Senate actually gains a few seats for the Republicans, but only because Senators are elected by state legislatures.

One state that Lincoln is eagerly awaiting results from is the border state of Missouri. He impatiently sends a telegraph to Brigadier General Francis P. Blair, Jr. – who is also up for re-election in the U.S. House – asking him to telegraph the results of the election. At 7:30pm Blair replies that “We have elected five Republicans, one Emancipationist Democrat, two Unconditional Union and 2 Pro-Slavery Dem’s to Congress. The Legislature is Emancipation in both Branches on your plan and secures two Senators to support the administration. My election is certain. I think the army vote yet to come in will not change the result.”

Though women cannot vote it does not mean that they do not hold strong opinions when it comes to politics and the war. A group from Massachusetts visits Lincoln and presents him with a petition signed by 12,333 women who wanted to show support for his administration.

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