150 Years Ago This Week: A showdown looms at Fredericksburg

November 1862

Federal Maj. Gen. Edwin Sumner, one of Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s subordinate commanders in the Army of the Potomac, agreed on Saturday, Nov. 22, not to bombard the city of Fredericksburg, despite Gen. Burnside’s ultimatum to the mayor the day before, “so long as no hostile demonstration is made from the town.”

Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside
Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside

In Matthews County, Va., on the Chesapeake Bay, 12 Southern salt works and several vessels were destroyed by Union troops; salt was a very valuable commodity in the Confederacy. On Nov. 24, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was assigned to the major command in the west, consisting of North Carolina, Tennessee, northern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and eastern Louisiana. His main tasks were to supervise the military operations of Gen. Braxton Bragg in Tennessee, and Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg. Gen. Bragg was moving his three army corps southwest of Nashville to Murfreesboro. In Virginia, Lt. Gen. Thomas Jackson’s 2nd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia marched from Winchester towards Fredericksburg, fighting several small skirmishes along the way.

In Washington, President Lincoln wrote to politician Carl Schurz: “I certainly know that if the war fails, this administration fails, and that I will be blamed for it, whether or not I deserve it.” At Poolesville, Md., on Nov. 25, Confederate cavalry crossed the Potomac River and seized the government telegraph office for a brief period of time. The next day, President Lincoln took a river steamer and traveled south on the Potomac River to Belle Plain, to meet for the first time his new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Gen. Burnside. In Richmond, President Davis wrote to all of his Confederate state governors, appealing for aid in enrolling conscripts and forwarding them to rendezvous points, in restoring to the armies all absent without leave, and securing more supplies for military use. He also called for slave labor to be used on defensive works. Around the two nations, there was fighting in Tennessee, western Virginia, Missouri and Mississippi.

President Lincoln spent the morning of Thursday, Nov. 27, at Aquia Creek, near Fredericksburg, meeting with Gen. Burnside. The general disagreed with Lincoln’s proposal of building up a force south of the Rappahannock River and another on the Pamunkey River, for a three-pronged attack and movement to Richmond. Gen. Burnside favored a direct assault on Gen. Lee’s army at Fredericksburg, on the opposite side of the Rappahannock from the Federal army. Gen. Burnside turned down the President’s plan.

On Nov. 28, some 5,000 Union troops under Col. James Blunt won a victory over about 8,000 Confederate soldiers commanded by Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke at Cane Hill, Ark. Union forces sustained 40 casualties while 435 Southerners were killed, wounded or captured. Despite some of the Union forces being overwhelmed by Col. Jo Shelby’s Confederate cavalry, the Confederates withdrew, which caused a setback in Maj. Gen. Thomas Hindman’s plans for recapturing northwest Arkansas.

Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder assumed command of the Confederate District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as November 1862 drew to a close. There was fighting between Chantilly and Berryville in Virginia, in Mississippi on the Tallahatchie River and between Rolla and the Ozark Mountains in Missouri. On Nov. 30, the CSS Alabama continued to be elusive on the high seas, threatening Federal shipping in the Atlantic. The USS Vanderbilt attempted to capture the Confederate raider but was not successful.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.