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.
Thirty-two year old U.S. Captain James Love has been with his St. Louis, Missouri regiment since June 1861. James was born in Ireland but came to the United States with his brother at the age of nineteen. At the start of the war he owned a store and a large corner property with several houses he rented out to locals. Once U.S. President Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 and southern states started to secede, many citizens left the city along with unpaid bills; James couldn’t even find tenants for his homes. Though the state of Missouri was split on their loyalties, James was staunchly for the Union and spent time secretly meeting other Union men as they secretly learned military drills in the cellars and caves of local breweries. He enlisted with Company D, 5th U.S. Reserve Corp.
When he enlisted in the army, James started writing letters to his fiancee back home, twenty-nine year old Eliza Mary Wilson, or “Molly” as he called her. Molly was also from Ireland and came to the United States after the death of her father in 1849. James and Molly were introduced through family, and they became secretly engaged in 1861.
Though they are separated by distance in the time of war, like so many others they exchange letters as their only means of maintaining a connection. James has arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, where his regiment is on provost duty to help preserve order in the Union-occupied town. James has finally started to receive his mail, including newspapers that provide information on the war and on the recent elections, including those in his home state of Missouri. Sunday’s are usually a good day to write loved ones; James takes this time to write to his beloved Molly:
My Dear Molly,
I commence as usual on a Sunday, and a wet one with all its depressing influences. I have been in camp here all the time since I wrote last. We moved camp after I closed your letter to this place about a mile, just on the bank of the river below Nashville. We can go over easily daily if we wish to get a pass countersigned by half a dozen generals, but as we have little money, and there is but little to buy or see in town if we had, why we stay at home. I have gone to duty again, a weeks rest has made me a new man, together with plenty of Quinine.
There are hope’s of our staying here for a little while now. Our request to be transferred to Kansas has been refused and General Rosecrans has sent to Kansas for the rest of our Regiment. He wishes us for the present to remain in town, and perhaps so continue either in the fortifications or on Provost Duty.
We are all in good spirits on account of the anticipation of a rest, and that was the principal reason why we wish’d to go, expecting of course as we passed St. Louis to have or take a furlough.
If we stay here as Genl R- thinks we will, (and orders us too) when the road gets safe, I will try for leave for Ten days. It will be hard to get, unless we go in winter quarters. I fear the fighting is becoming too much in earnest to expect it, but somebody must stay here, so if good luck is with us we will.
Mails are coming this way pretty freely just now, and the R.R. will be open in a day or two, so I hope to hear from you soon. We have got late papers & the times are exciting & full of important events, from all parts of the compass. The Army of the Cumberland of which we are now a part is concentrating here rapidly as it scours the country side above us and it is fast being outfitted with clothing, Tents & Wagons for a Southern campaign. It is said to Chattanooga, East Tennessee & even Mobile.
I see you have had an exciting contested election once again with Frank Blair in the field, this time beat I suppose by a new man. So mote it be, for the sake of poetical justice. I care very little, so as Missouri becomes soon a free state.
I have no hairbreadth scapes nor startling incidents this time to relate, & I’m glad of it. I hope all may soon be peace & quietness for a generation.
I am with much love to you & all.
My dear dear girl,
C.S.A. Lieutenant-General James Longstreet believes that a battle with the Army of the Potomac is immanent. As Union troops make their way towards their destination of Fredericksburg, Virginia, there has been fire exchanged along the way and the movements south have been noticed by Confederate leaders. He has his Assistant Adjutant-General, Gilbert Moxley Sorrel, send a message to the troops:
The troops of this command will be held in readiness for battle upon a moment’s notice. Commanders will see that provisions, ammunition, and transportation are at hand and in such quantities as may he wanted to meet their necessities. The commanding general relies upon the valor and patriotism of these well tried troops to sustain them in the struggle that they may again be called upon to encounter. Officers, cool and take care of your men. Soldiers, remain steady in your ranks, take good aim, and obey the orders of your officers. Observe these simple injunctions, and your general will be responsible for the issue.
On the western campaign, a friendship has been building since the battle of Shiloh this past April. Though they have often been in different locations – one now military governor of Memphis, Tennessee, the other maneuvering his men around Grand Junction, Tennessee – they have kept in constant correspondence. U.S. Major Ulysses S. Grant looks forward to letters from Memphis, as he had asked U.S. Major General William T. Sherman to write him freely and fully on all matters of public interest. Some military leaders might have taken that request as a sign that they were not trusted and were to be “hand held”. Sherman has learned enough about Grant to know that it is not a matter of trust, but merely an act of wanting enough information to be able to make future command decisions. It’s also about staying in touch; letting Sherman known that Grant is there for him and supports his efforts, which are not always easy when occupying what was once a rebel city. Though very different in personality, they have both been victimized by the press and are far enough away from Washington City where they have a considerable amount of freedom in their actions compared to their counterparts in the Army of the Potomac. Unlike most, they also have a keen understanding of the necessities of war and what needs to be done to end it; both are committed to this enormous task.
These two friends are about to be reunited again, as Grant wants Sherman’s help in developing a strategy to take the important Mississippi River hub of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Today he sends Sherman a telegraph to “Meet me at Columbus, Kentucky on Thursday next. If you have a good map of the country south of you, take it up with you.“