The American Civil War, day by day - Page 54 - Politics | PoFo

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December 3, Wednesday

After the Federal victory six days ago, General Blunt remains encamped at Cane Hill, Arkansas. But his respite is brief, today General Hindman leaves Van Buren with 11,300 men and 22 cannon to attack him. Now Blunt is outnumbered, and he sends a message to General Herron at Springfield to hurry and join him.

In Mississippi Grant continues to execute his plan for a land attack on Vicksburg, pressing Confederates along the Yocknapatalfa River and approaching the town of Oxford, 40 miles below the Tennessee border. But the question of General McClernand is still unresolved. Puzzling over the matter, Grant concludes that the authorities in Washington are tolerating McClernand’s activities because they want an amphibious campaign by way of the Mississippi River; if so, Grant is determined to lead it, and he begins to revise his entire strategy. He intends to foreclose McClernand’s ambitions by launching an attack on Vicksburg while McClernand is still in Illinois. Grant will divide his recently assembled army and launch a two-pronged movement southward. Major General Sherman will command an expedition of 30,000 men to be transported by Admiral David Porter’s fleet down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Yazoo, just north of Vicksburg. There the troops will debark for an assault at a place called Chickasaw Bluffs. It is formidable terrain for an attack, but Sherman hopes to surprise the Confederates. To ease Sherman’s task, Grant will continue his southward movement parallel to the Mississippi and try to distract the Vicksburg defenders. Grant instructs Sherman to get started immediately. As he will later explain candidly: “I feared that delay might bring McClernand.”

There is an attack on a Federal forage train on the Hardin Poke near Nashville, Tennessee, and a skirmish at Moorefield, western Virginia. There is action at Prophet, Spring Dale, and Free Bridges and Oakland.

Three blockade runners are taken off the North Carolina coast.
December 4, Thursday

General Burnside’s plan to have the Army of the Potomac cross the Rappahannock at Skinker’s Neck downstream of Fredericksburg has run into difficulties. He called up Federal gunboats from Port Royal to support the attack, but Confederate shore batteries at Skinker’s Neck drive them back downstream. Then Federal spotters, venturing aloft in hydrogen balloons, detect Jubal Early’s and D.H. Hill’s divisions in their camps near Skinker’s Neck and Port Royal. The discovery of thousands of Confederates waiting at the intended crossing point convinces Burnside that General Lee has guessed the Federal strategy. In fact, Lee has made preparations for every contingency, and had realized immediately that a wide sweep against his right would be the most effective move Burnside can make. Burnside, underestimating Lee’s flexibility and assuming that the Confederate general has weakened his center in order to strengthen his right, decides to revert to his original battle plan: He will cross his main force at Fredericksburg after all. Later explaining the change to General in Chief Halleck, Burnside will say he believed that the enemy “did not anticipate the crossing of our whole force at Fredericksburg; and I hoped, by rapidly throwing the whole command over at that place, to separate, by a vigorous attack, the forces of the enemy on the river below from the forces behind and on the crests in the rear of the town.”

Since arriving at Nashville at the end of October to assume command of the Federal Army of the Cumberland, General Rosecrans has gone to work. Relying heavily on wagons, Rosecrans is restocking his supplies and re-equipping his army. He is resting his veterans and training his recruits—while keeping a wary eye on the Confederates. He also has to deal with problems of civil law and order. “Nashville [is] a rebel city, swarming with traitors, smugglers and spies. Of its male inhabitants, a larger number [are] in the rebel army; and its women, arrogant and defiant, [are] alike, outspoken in their treason and indefatigable in their efforts to aid that cause for which their brothers, sons and husbands [are] fighting.” Rosecrans organizes a secret service and a police department, ferrets out the smugglers and spies, seizes contraband and imprisons the culprits or expels them from the Federal lines. Rosecrans uses his imagination to solve another problem. Many Federal soldiers are deliberately surrendering to the Confederates, knowing that they might be paroled and sent home. This practice is greatly reduced by an order from Rosecrans “directing all those practically guilty of desertion should have their heads encased in white cotton night caps and thus publicly branded as cowards, be marched through the streets and camps and sent North.”

All this takes time, during which Halleck and Lincoln repeatedly prod their new general for action. Today, Halleck applies the lash: “The President is very impatient at your long stay in Nashville. The favorable season for your campaign will soon be over. You give Bragg time to supply himself by plundering the country your army should have occupied. Twice have I been asked to designate someone else to command your army. If you remain one more week at Nashville, I cannot prevent your removal.” But Rosecrans refuses to budge until his army is ready. He replies, “I need no other stimulus to make me do my duty than the knowledge of what it is. To threats of removal or the like I must be permitted to say that I am insensible.”

Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston assumes overall command in the West, with his headquarters at Chattanooga.

Sporadic fighting continues on the major fronts. There is skirmishing on the Franklin Pike and near Stewart’s Ferry on Stone’s River, Tennessee. In Mississippi the action is near Oxford and Water Valley. There are operations about Cane Hill and Reed’s Mountain, Arkansas, and in Cherokee Country, Indian Territory. Citizens attack Amerind prisoners at Mankato, Minnesota. At Prestonburg, Kentucky, Confederates capture some supply boats with arms, ammunition, and uniforms. There also is a skirmish in Floyd County, Kentucky.
December 5, Friday

Grant’s cavalry receives a setback in an engagement on the Mississippi Central Railroad at Coffeeville, Mississippi.

The US Senate passes a resolution requesting that President Lincoln address it regarding his final decision concerning the Sioux convicted of murder and rape during the Minnesota uprising.
December 6, Saturday

Lincoln, determined to separate the murderers and rapists from the Sioux that had simply joined in battles, finds much of the evidence against the condemned Amerinds unconvincing or deficient. With the news of the convictions, Lincoln has been visited by the Episcopal Bishop of the Missionary District of Minnesota, Henry B. Whipple, one of the state’s few tolerant voices for the Amerinds. Discussing the evils of the Indian system that angered the Santee, the clergyman, according to Lincoln, “talked with me about the rascality of this Indian business until I felt it down to my boots.” Despite appeals from Minnesota Governor Ramsey, General Pope, and others, he narrows the list to 39 and orders their execution by hanging on December 19, though it will be delayed until the 26th.

Even partial clemency results in protests from Minnesota, which will persist until the Secretary of the Interior offers White Minnesotans “reasonable compensation for the depredations committed.” To assuage Minnesota’s anti-Amerind hysteria, Congress will abrogate all treaties with the Santee in February and March and order the tribe’s removal from Minnesota. About 1,300 Sioux, mostly women and children, who since the Battle of Wood Lake have been incarcerated in a crowded and unhealthy stockade near Fort Snelling, will be sent to Crow Creek, a bleak, isolated site on the open plains along the Missouri River in the future South Dakota. About 2,000 Winnebago Amerinds, a few of whom are suspected of having helped the Santee during the outbreak, will also be driven from Minnesota and placed near the Sioux at Crow Creek. So many will die there of starvation and disease that the Winnebago will soon flee to Nebraska Territory, where in 1865 the Omaha Amerinds will give them part of their reservation. It will not be until 1866 that a peace commission will allow the suffering Santee to move to a better location farther south on timbered land at the mouth of the Niobrara River. In 1863, 1864, and 1865 General Pope will order expeditions against those Santee that fled west that, though victorious, are not successful—setting the stage for the future wars with the rest of the Sioux nation following the war.

Despite all this, Republicans will not fare as well in Minnesota in the 1864 election as they have before. Ramsey (a senator by 1864) will inform Lincoln that more hangings would have resulted in a larger electoral majority. The President reportedly replies, “I could not afford to hang men for votes.”

Hurrying in response to General Blunt’s call for support, General Herron’s two divisions of 6,000 Federals and thirty artillery pieces have covered the 110 miles from Springfield, Missouri, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, in an incredible three days. This forces General Hindman to alter his plans. He had originally intended to trap Blunt’s inferior force by sending part of his troops around to the north to strike the Federals in the flank and rear, driving them into the main Confederate army arrayed across their front. Now he decides to march his entire army northeast during the night, defeat Herron’s force, and then turn on Blunt. This is made easier when Blunt, assuming that he will be attacked in the morning, orders his men to pull back to a more defensible line. Lighting campfires to conceal their intent, Hindman’s army steals away from the Federals, leaving a cavalry regiment to stall any pursuit.

Though outnumbered and a with high command at odds with itself, the Confederates in Tennessee will have one thing to cheer about as a consequence of John Hunt Morgan’s splendidly combative nature. Assigned by General Bragg to harass the Federal supply lines to Nashville, Morgan immediately sets his sights on the railroad from Louisville. But he has to contend with a Federal brigade at Hartsville, 35 miles northeast of Nashville, that is in an admirable position to defend the railroad line. Today, while Confederate infantry units feint toward Lavergne on the Nashville-Murfreesboro road and against Lebanon, northeast of Nashville, Morgan’s raiders of infantry and cavalry set out. In bitter cold, they ride and march across snow-covered ground toward Hartsville; to get there, they will have to cross the icy Cumberland River just below their objective. To move rapidly without becoming exhausted, the infantry and cavalry take turns riding the available horses. This doesn’t work out well—the infantry have gotten their feet wet in trudging through the snow, and after riding a short time are nearly frozen and clamor to dismount. The cavalrymen have now gotten their feet saturated with moisture, and when they remount suffer in their turn. There is some trouble, too, in returning the horses to the proper parties after dark.

Crossing the Cumberland in the night proves even more difficult than expected. Morgan takes the infantry to a ferry crossing, while Colonel Basil Duke takes the cavalry to a ford some miles downstream. The infantrymen find only two boats, and it takes most of the night for the troops to be ferried across. The horsemen fare worse. They can reach the riverbank only by a bridle path so narrow only one man at a time can use it. Having reached the river, each rider is compelled to gather his horse and leap into the river, over a bluff about four feet high. Horse and rider is generally submerged by the plunge, and the cold after the ducking affects the men horribly; those who get across first build fires, at which they partially warm themselves while the others are crossing.

There is skirmishing near Kimbrough’s Mill, Mill Creek, Tennessee, and at Parkesville, Missouri.
December 7, Sunday

General Hindman’s operation against General Herron at Fayetteville, Arkansas, has begun well. After their nighttime march, Hindman’s troops are deployed in a strong, horseshoe-shaped line on a hill of timber known as Prairie Grove opposite General Herron’s divisions on the north side of the Illinois River. At 9:30 am, the Federal artillery opens up and the battle begins. Under the cover of the artillery barrage, Herron’s infantry crosses the river. Costly attacks and counterattacks follow, with neither side gaining an advantage. Then Blunt, twelve miles away, realizes what is happening and rushes to Herron’s aid. Now Hindman has to fight both Union forces along an extended line. As the afternoon wears on, casualties mount on each side. In one dreadful incident, wounded Federals who have crawled onto mounds of straw in an apple orchard to await treatment die horribly when Union shells accidentally set the straw on fire, burning the helpless men alive. A large drove of hogs, attracted by the scent of roasting flesh, gorge themselves on the corpses. At sunset, after twelve hours of fighting, the firing slackens. The Confederates have had enough, and during the bitter winter night Hindman orders his army to retreat southward. As at Pea Ridge, each side has suffered around 1,300 casualties: 175 Federals killed, 813 wounded, and 263 missing for a total of 1,251 casualties out of an estimated 10,000 troops; and for the Confederates 164 were killed, 817 wounded, and 336 missing for a total of 1,317 casualties, also out of about 10,000 men. The Battle of Prairie Grove ends any Confederate control of northwestern Arkansas and the Indian Territory north of the Arkansas River.

In Tennessee, Colonel Duke realizes that not all of the cavalry he leads will be able to get over the Cumberland River by daylight. Taking those troopers who have made it across, he sets out to meet Morgan at a rendezvous three miles from the Federal encampment at Hartsville. On the way, the cavalrymen run into some Federal pickets and drive them back, thus losing the element of surprise. Forewarned, the Federals are able to deploy in battle lines in front of their encampment. As Duke rides up to the meeting place, Morgan informs him that there are 1,000 more Federals in Hartsville than expected. Duke dismounts his cavalry and hits the Federal right, driving it back. While this attack is underway, two Confederate howitzers on the south bank of the Cumberland begin peppering the Federal camp, drawing the Federal artillery’s fire away from the cavalry attack. Meanwhile, Colonel Thomas H. Hunt, Morgan’s uncle, strikes the Federals’ left flank with two Kentucky regiments in echelon. In short order the Federals are crowded together like sheep in a pen, and are falling fast. The white flag is hoisted an hour and a half after the first shot is fired. The Federals lose 2,096 men, about 1,800 of whom are taken prisoner, with all their artillery, equipment, and supplies. Morgan’s men destroy the booty and then march to Murfreesboro with their prisoners.

President Davis, worried about Vicksburg, wires Pemberton at Grenada, Mississippi, “Are you in communication with General J.E. Johnston? Hope you will be re-inforced [sic] in time.”

The Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana is organized with Major Generals Van Dorn and Price commanding the First and Second Corps.
December 8, Monday

As often happens to commanders in the field, General Grant is frequently distracted from his military and political problems by administrative ones. Two in particular are giving him trouble, and both will have unexpected consequences.

Escaped slaves—now freedmen under the Emancipation Proclamation—have gathered in great numbers around Federal military encampments, Grant’s included. Orders from Washington afford these freedmen the protection of the Army. But protection is one thing, subsistence another. Thousands are crowding about his main camp—so many that it is virtually impossible to feed and shelter them. What is more, the destitute hordes are an actual impediment to the army’s movement. In November Grant called in Chaplain John Eaton of the 27th Ohio Infantry and put him in charge of the freedmen. Following a general outline laid down by Grant, Eaton has established camps for the former slaves, provided medical treatment for those who need it, and found paid work for the able-bodied on local plantations where corn and cotton are going unpicked. In addition, he has arranged for freedmen to pick the cotton growing in the numerous abandoned fields in the area. The bales are then shipped north and sold by the government, with a share of the proceeds going to the Black laborers. “All at once,” Grant reports with satisfaction, “the freedmen became self-sustaining.”

Grant’s system might not have succeeded so well had wartime cotton been less valuable. As it is, cotton has become so precious that it is the source of another problem. Direct cotton trade between Federal and Confederate states is, of course, banned. But the prohibition has created great financial pressure; Northern industries deprived of the South’s cotton need it badly, while Southern growers with cotton piling up on their plantations desperately seek a way to sell it. The inevitable consequence is a large and enormously profitable black market. A certain amount of surreptitious cotton traffic is winked at by officials on both sides. But Federal field commanders are being driven to distraction by Northern speculators who boldly follow their armies around, picking up cotton cheap and selling it for high prices in the North. Some of these traders are actually in the Army. The practice of cotton smuggling infuriates Grant, and he lays a great deal of the blame on Jewish traders. Criticism of Jewish traders has spread throughout the Union Army, although non-Jewish traders’ involvement in illicit trade is rampant. Jewish traders are singled out and called “sharks” who fed upon soldiers. As part of his command, Grant is responsible for issuing trade licenses in the Department of Tennessee, an administrative district of the Union Army that comprises the portions of Kentucky and Tennessee west of the Tennessee River, and Union-controlled areas of northern Mississippi. Today, he issues General Order No. 2, mandating that “cotton-speculators, Jews and other Vagrants having not honest means of support, except trading upon the miseries of their Country ... will leave in twenty-four hours or they will be sent to duty in the trenches.”

President Davis, concerned over the several threats to the Confederacy, writes Lee at Fredericksburg, “In Tennessee and Mississippi the disparity between our armies and those of the enemy is so great as to fill me with apprehension.” He announces his intention to go west immediately. As to Lee’s desire to concentrate forces to defend Richmond, Davis regrets he can do so little to help him as to manpower.

There is a Federal reconnaissance from Suffolk to the Blackwater and skirmishes at and about Zuni, Virginia, December 8-12.
December 9, Tuesday

Late in the night, General Burnside notifies headquarters in Washington of his change of plans, and pleads at the same time for reassurance. Burnside’s message concludes with a note to General in Chief Halleck personally: “The movement is so important that I feel anxious to be fortified by his approval. Please answer.” No answer is ever sent. Burnside’s agony of uncertainty can hardly have been eased by the results of two additional conferences he has convened to explain his plan and ask for support from his fellow officers. He knows that most of them now oppose his plan, he says, and reiterates that he had not wanted this command, but he has it just the same. “Your duty is not to throw cold water, but to aid me loyally with your advice and hearty service.” At a later meeting he explains what he wants them to do, and at length Brigadier General William H. French enthusiastically predicts the battle will be won within 48 hours, then leads three cheers for the commanding general. The attack is set for the morning of December 11th. Burnside casually asks two junior officers what they think of his strategy. They tell him that it will be the greatest slaughter of the war, that carrying out his plan will be murder, not warfare.”

As his officers perceive, Burnside’s logic is seriously flawed. Lee might not be anticipating the main attack at Fredericksburg—but it is unnecessary to do so. The position he occupies on the heights behind the town is one of the most formidable his army has held. He has distributed his forces intelligently, taking great care to provide for lateral movement to counter any maneuver Burnside might undertake. Moreover, Lee cannot be surprised: Burnside will have to build his pontoon bridges in full view of the Confederates, cross his regiments one after another in long lines, and then battle Lee’s skirmishers in the streets before Federal forces can even approach the main Confederate line. At best, the preliminary movements will take several hours—more likely an entire day—and Burnside is fully aware that Lee has several divisions within an easy march of Fredericksburg. Yet this knowledge leaves Burnside undeterred. “Oh! I know where Lee’s forces are, and I expect to surprise him,” he declares. “I expect to cross and occupy the hills before Lee can bring anything serious to meet me.”

In the West there is a skirmish at Dobbins’ Ferry, near La Vergne, Tennessee, and a Federal reconnaissance toward Franklin with a skirmish near Brentwood. There is also a skirmish at Mudtown, Arkansas. For several days there are Federal expeditions from Ozark, Missouri, into Marion County, Arkansas; and from Corinth, Mississippi, toward Tuscumbia, Alabama, with considerable skirmishing during the latter reconnaissance.
December 10, Wednesday

The soldiers of the Army of the Potomac are issued three days’ rations and 60 rounds of ammunition each. A massive wagon train with another twelve days’ rations for the army stands ready on Stafford Heights, indicative of Burnside’s boast that he will walk over Lee’s defenses and soon be on the road to Richmond. This evening, despite the bitter cold, a Federal band sets up at the edge of the partially iced-over Rappahannock near the ruins of the railroad bridge, burned earlier in the war. Both armies listen as the band plays “Hail Columbia,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” Yankee Doodle” and other tunes familiar since childhood to men of both the Union and the Confederacy. Then the musicians pause, perhaps thinking there will be a response in kind from the southern shore. Hearing nothing, the Federals strike up “Dixie,” and cheers and laughter from men in blue and gray ripple along both sides of the Rappahannock.

Confederate General McLaws, listening from the ridge above Fredericksburg, does not enjoy the interlude. He suspects that the serenity might be an attempt to lull his division into complacency. This same night the general inspects his pickets along the riverbank, and orders them to dig more rifle pits. Even before the cheering and laughter die away, his troops are grimly preparing for battle.

Morgan’s little victory at Hartsville, Tennessee on the 7th delights President Davis, but he finds other things to complain about. He remains exasperated by Johnston’s opposition to the reinforcement of Pemberton at Vicksburg, and Davis arrives at Murfreesboro today to inspect Bragg’s army for himself. Nothing he sees changes his mind. He orders Johnston to send Major General Carter Stevenson’s division of about 9,000 men—one fourth of Bragg’s infantry—to Vicksburg. Bragg protests that he will have fewer than 40,000 men to oppose Rosecrans, whose force has been estimated at 65,000 in Nashville and another 35,000 guarding his line of communication with Louisville. Bragg also points out that he has detached Forrest to raid Grant’s supply lines in western Tennessee. Davis is unyielding. He tells Bragg, “Fight if you can and fall back beyond the Tennessee.”

The President spends two days in Murfreesboro. Between meetings with the commanders, he inspects the army, is serenaded by the soldiers, and addresses a crowd gathered in front of his hotel. In the spirit of the Christmas season, which the people in Murfreesboro are beginning to celebrate early in the President’s honor, Davis rewards Morgan for the Hartsville raid with a commission as a brigadier general. General Hardee urges the President to make Morgan a major general, but Davis replies, “I do not wish to give my boys all their sugar plums at once.”

The United States House of Representatives pass a bill creating the state of West Virginia. The measure granting secession of western Virginia from Virginia and creating a state had previously passed the Senate on July 14.

Confederate forces seize Plymouth, North Carolina, defeating a Federal garrison. There is a skirmish at Desert Station, Louisiana.
December 11, Thursday

The Army of the Potomac’s engineers are ordered to begin to lay the pontoon bridges at 2 am. Their task—building five bridges in a few hours for the crossing of 10,000 men plus artillery—is unprecedented in the history of the US Army. Two bridges are to be built at the site of an old rope ferry at the center of Fredericksburg, and another opposite the docks at the lower end of town. Two more bridges are planned at Franklin’s crossing point downstream. The bridge-builders have one of the most dangerous assignments imaginable. Working unarmed, they have to haul their pontoons out into the freezing river, position the flat-bottomed boats in line, moor them securely, lash them together, and then lay 400 feet of planking to the opposite shore—all while exposed to enemy fire.

On the Confederate side of the river, Brigadier General William Barksdale rides uneasily up and down the bank, inspecting his pickets and checking for signs of enemy activity. His 1,600 troops have been ordered to harass any Federal crossing, slowing it down as long as possible before withdrawing to the main Confederate lines. Barksdale has posted his sharpshooters in rifle pits and basements and behind walls all along the river front. From time to time as Barksdale patrols, he reins in his horse and listens. At length his vigilance is rewarded; he and his anxious men hear the unmistakable creaking and rumbling of heavy equipment being hauled down to the far bank. Then, long before dawn, Barksdale’s men can hear the sounds of pontoons splashing into the river and planks thudding into place. As the bridges are extended in the darkness, Federal engineers can be heard talking in undertones. With the dawn a mist rising over the river continues to shroud the bridge-builders, some of whom are now within eighty yards of the Confederate sharpshooters. Barksdale has told his superiors thar he will open fire as soon as he can see his target. Up on Marye’s Heights, a cannon barks twice, shattering the early-morning hush and alerting the slumbering Army of Northern Virginia to the long-awaited Federal crossing. The warning signal is at once confirmed by the sound of musketry opening up on the Federal engineers, killing a captain and two men and wounding several others. The supporting infantry on the far side of the river are at long range and can do little damage to the Confederates, and the engineers are driven from the work.

The Federal artillery on the heights then open fire to drive the Confederates from their riverside positions, but the sharpshooters are well protected. Brigadier General Henry J. Hunt, General Burnside’s chief of artillery, orders 36 guns taken down to the riverside to blaze away at closer range. But when the guns cease firing after about an hour to let the engineers go back to work, the sharpshooters open up again and send them racing back to cover. This frustrating situation continues until about 1 pm, when the Federals bring all their available artillery—about 100 guns—to bear on the hapless town. During the next two hours they fire 5,000 shells into Fredericksburg. The explosions tear gaping holes in brick houses, set wooden houses ablaze, dig craters in streets and gardens, and thoroughly terrify the few civilians remaining. The town where George Washington spent much of his youth, that for years was the home of his mother and her last earthly resting place, is being reduced to rubble. But the bombardment fails to drive off Barksdale’s men. When the Federal artillery grows quiet and the engineers resume their work, the tenacious Mississippians emerge from their shelters yet again and resume firing. Eventually, General Hunt admits that his artillery cannot dislodge the sharpshooters and suggests to Burnside that infantrymen be rowed across in pontoons to clear the opposite shore. Burnside agrees, teams of engineers are assigned to handle the pontoons, and volunteers from Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York regiments clamber into the makeshift assault boats. As they cross they come under heavy fire, killing one man and wounding several others, but all the pontoons make it to the other side. The men leap out, form ranks under the protection of the riverbank, and rush up the nearest street. Within minutes, they have taken thirty prisoners and cleared the area bordering the bridges. Other Federal units then land, and the attackers push further into the city.

Nevertheless, the Mississippians have accomplished their mission superbly, holding up General Sumner’s entire grand division for the better part of a day. When, around 4:30, Longstreet at last orders the defenders to withdraw, Barksdale’s troops retire street by street, hotly contesting every inch; within a stretch of about fifty yards, the attacking Federals lose 97 officers and men. One Confederate’s zeal proves excessive. Lieutenant Lane Brandon learns from some Federal prisoners that the company attacking him is commanded by Lieutenant Henry Abbot, a former classmate at Harvard Law School. Brandon immediately orders his men to cease their withdrawal. He refuses to retire before Abbott, and is actually driving him back when he is placed under arrest for violating orders and his company resumes its retreat under the command of his subaltern. Soon most of the Confederates have gained the protection of a stone wall at the foot of Marye’s Heights to the cheers of the soldiers above them.

Although a few Confederate skirmishers remain behind in Fredericksburg, the town is now in Federal hands. A more aggressive commander might attack the heights immediately, but Burnside is in no hurry to move. As night falls, flames lick away at sections of Fredericksburg. “The whole heavens are lit up by the burning city. On the heights beyond the city, for a mile or more, flashes of white light show through the smoke, as the enemy’s artillery seeks to demolish our bridges.” The fire’s glow “revealed skirmishers fighting in the streets, dodging about from house to house.”

On the southern flank, downriver from Fredericksburg, in the morning the Federal advance under General Franklin has a promising start. Here Confederate opposition from the west bank is far less effective than at the town. Two companies of 18th Mississippi open fire on the Federal bridge-builders at dawn, wounding six men and shooting holes in many of the pontoons. But unlike the defenders at Fredericksburg, the Confederates here have no buildings, walls, and basements to protect them from artillery fire. When Federal gunners open up, the Mississippians are quickly routed. They try twice more, in much larger numbers, but each time the result is the same. One of the bridges is finished by 9 am, the other two hours later. But then they lie unused for several hours as General Franklin ponders the next move for his grand division.

Franklin graduated from West Point in 1843, at the top of the class in which Ulysses S. Grant ranked 21st. Subsequently he served as an engineering officer in various construction assignments around Washington, among them managing the erection of the new Capitol dome. Thus far in the war he has performed adequately—at First Bull Run, in the Peninsular Campaign, and at Antietam. But this morning he is hopelessly—if understandably—confused. It is bad enough that the orders he receives early this morning are vague in the extreme. Perhaps in the hope of receiving a clarification, Franklin does not cross, but instead notifies headquarters as soon as his bridges are ready. In reply, Burnside now instructs him not to cross, but to await further orders. Not until 4 pm, about the time the Federals gain a foothold on the west bank at Fredericksburg, does Burnside order Franklin’s grand division to move.

The first unit to cross the river is a brigade of VI Corps under Brigadier General Charles Devens Jr. One of his regimental commanders decides that the occasion should be marked with proper ceremony, so he orders a band to lead the way while playing a lively march. The men on the two spans pick up the cadence and fall into step—something that is never permitted on pontoon bridges lest the rhythmic tramp sets up a dangerous swaying. Both bridges begin to undulate alarmingly, but before any pontoons are swamped or moorings snap a staff officer gallops up to the regimental commander and orders the music stopped. Devens’ brigade and two regiments of another brigade that follow it soon reach the far bank, but then the advance is called to a halt; yet another order has arrived from Burnside that countermands his preceding instructions. Now the fretful commanding general has decided that only one brigade should be deployed on the west bank, to guard the bridges during the night, and the rest of the troops should wait until morning. Back over the river plods the two regiments, leaving Devens’ brigade to hold the bridgehead.

This night, General Lee orders up two of Stonewall Jackson’s divisions. He brings A.P. Hill up from Yerby’s House to relieve General Longstreet’s men on the Confederate right between Deep Run and Hamilton’s Crossing. At the same time, General Taliaferro’s troops move up from Guinea Station to provide support. Lee leaves in place Jackson’s other two divisions, under D.H. Hill and Jubal Early, to guard the crossings downstream at Skinker’s Neck and Port Royal.

There is a skirmish at La Vergne and near Nashville, Tennessee; and at Darkesville, western Virginia; as well as a two-day Federal reconnaissance toward Franklin, Tennessee. Federals begin a ten-day expedition from New Berne to Goldsborough, North Carolina; and a five-day reconnaissance from Yorktown to Gloucester, Matthews, King and Queen, and Middlesex counties of Virginia.

General Pemberton is a West Point graduate and an able soldier, but he tends to be inflexible and convention-bound. Nevertheless, he has conceived and set in motion a bold plan—a double-barreled raid on the rear of General Grant’s army. Grant, to feed his army as it moves toward Grenada, has had to set up a supply base at the northern Mississippi town of Holly Springs; it is the terminus of a long and difficult supply route from Columbus, Kentucky, almost 200 miles away. The first branch of Pemberton’s plan, with the acquiescence of the Army of Tennessee’s General Bragg, is to send Nathan Bedford Forrest, with about 2,500 Confederates, on a raid against Grant’s communications around Jackson, Tennessee. Today Forrest and his cavalry leave Columbia, Tennessee, below Nashville, on their mission.

President Lincoln addresses the Senate regarding his final decision about the Sioux captured and placed on trial for the Minnesota rebellion, as he had been requested to do by a resolution passed by that body on December 5: “Anxious to not act with so much clemency as to encourage another outbreak on the one hand, nor with so much severity as to be real cruelty on the other, I caused a careful examination of the records of trials to be made, in view of first ordering the execution of such as had been proved guilty of violating females. Contrary to my expectations, only two of this class were found. I then directed a further examination, and a classification of all who were proven to have participated in massacres, as distinguished from participation in battles. This class numbered forty, and included the two convicted of female violation. One of the number is strongly recommended by the commission which tried them for commutation to ten years’ imprisonment. I have ordered the other thirty-nine to be executed on Friday, the 19th instant.”
December 12, Friday

At Fredericksburg, the day passes with Burnside doing nothing more than bringing more troops across the Rappahannock and pondering his next move. The delay affords the idle Federals a chance to indulge in one of the war’s more discreditable enterprises—the wholesale looting of Fredericksburg. The evacuation of most of the civilians and the withdrawal of the Confederates has left the town wide open. Most houses are empty, and many have been partially destroyed; the pickings are easy, and what the Federals can’t use they demolish. They smash mirrors, fine china, and alabaster vases; mutilate books, paintings, and embroidered draperies; and chop up antique furniture for firewood. Rosewood pianos are piled in the streets and burned, or employed as horse troughs, or wrecked by soldiers who dance atop the instruments and kick the keyboards apart. The streets fill with soldiers dressed in women’s clothes and tall silk hats, and the sacking takes on a bizarre, carnival-like quality. Major General Darius N. Couch, II Corps commander, is one of the few officers to take action to stop the looting. He places guards at the bridges to make sure that none of the men get any of their loot back across the river to their camps. Huge piles of confiscated articles accumulate at the guard posts.

South of Fredericksburg, this morning General Franklin’s entire Federal grand division crosses the Rappahannock, some of the men for the third time in less than 24 hours. The grand division takes up positions on the plain between the river and the heights held by the Confederates. The VI Corps forms along the Old Richmond Road, which runs parallel to the river about a half mile inland. Their right is anchored on the steep bank of Deep Run. The I Corps deploys to the VI Corps’ left in an arc stretching back to the Rappahannock. It is a situation that Major General William F. Smith, the VI Corps’ commander, finds unsettling: “Here were two corps with an impassable stream on their right, a formidable range of hills occupied by the enemy covering almost their entire front, and their back to a river with two frail bridges connecting its shores. It takes soldiers who do not believe that war is an art to be perfectly at ease under such circumstances.”

At midday, Lee rides out to reconnoiter the southern flank. He is joined by Stonewall Jackson and Major Heros Von Borcke, a Prussian officer serving on Jeb Stuart’s staff. Reaching the heights beyond Deep Run, they entrust their horses to an orderly and creep along a ditch to a point where they can see General Franklin’s troops deploying on the plain below. As the generals peer through their field glasses, Von Borcke thinks nervously about what a well-directed shell or a few Federal horsemen can do at this moment to the leadership of the Army of Northern Virginia. He is relieved when they all return to their horses and ride off. Lee is also relieved, but for another reason: His reconnaissance has erased any doubts about where the enemy is going to attack. Burnside is not going to make the wide flanking movement from Skinker’s Neck after all, Lee concludes. Instead, the Federals are going to try to turn the Confederate right at Hamilton’s Crossing, and the massing of troops on the plain suggests that an attack is imminent. Lee directs Jackson to summon the divisions of D.H. Hill and Jubal Early from their downstream positions.

Although the Federal plan of attack seems clear to Lee and Jackson, General Franklin remains in the dark. He still has no orders to engage the enemy, and his men stand idle in formation. He discusses matters with Generals Reynolds and Smith, and all three agree that they should attack with their entire command to carry the ridge held by Jackson’s troops and turn Lee’s right. At 5 pm, Burnside rides out and makes a cursory inspection of the southern flank. After his quick gallop along the lines, he is invited by Franklin to a meeting. There Franklin and his top generals press Burnside to approve an all-out attack. Franklin will need time to organize his forces for such a large-scale assault, and he urges Burnside to approve the attack on the spot so that it can be commenced in the morning. Burnside demurs, but he leaves Franklin and his subordinates with the impression that orders authorizing the attack will be forthcoming. Franklin and his generals prepare for the attack. But the night wears on with no word from Burnside. At 3 am, Reynolds gives up and goes to bed, saying, “I know I have hard work ahead of me and I must get some sleep.” Franklin then sends an aide to inquire at Burnside’s headquarters. The aid is told that the orders will be ready promptly, but the hours drag by without result.

Elsewhere there are operations on the Yazoo River in Mississippi, and on the Neuse River in North Carolina. On the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg the Federal ironclad Cairo strikes a mine, or torpedo as they are currently called, and sinks. The crew escapes. The vessel will remain there a century before being raised.

In the Shenandoah there is a Federal reconnaissance from North Mountain to Bunker Hill and a skirmish between Harper’s Ferry and Leesburg. There is a skirmish at Dumfries, Virginia, and December 12-20 operations in Loudoun County, Virginia. Confederates raid Poolesville, Maryland, on December 14. The Union expedition to Goldsborough, North Carolina, soon runs into trouble and is repulsed by the eighteenth.

President Lincoln writes Mayor Fernando Wood of New York that if the Southern states would cease resistance to national authority “the war would cease on the part of the United States.” This is in response to recurring rumors and reports of peace overtures.
December 13, Saturday

The Southern Flank

The orders General Franklin requested from General Burnside for an attack on the flank south of Fredericksburg are finally issued at 5:55 am. But despite the availability of a telegraph, the directives are given to a member of Burnside’s staff to deliver personally and they don’t reach Franklin until 7:45. Even worse, the orders are not at all what Franklin expects. Instead of committing the entire grand division to the attack, Burnside directs cryptically that Franklin keep his command in position and send out “a division at least” to “seize, if possible, the height near Captain Hamilton’s, on this side of the Massaponax, taking care to keep it well supported and its line of retreat open.” Franklin has 60,000 men available, yet Burnside has given him no clear idea of how many he should commit. Left to his own devices, Franklin chooses to interpret Burnside’s order as cautiously as possible.

Burnside actually intends for Franklin to seize the heights above Hamilton Crossing. Once Franklin’s attack on the south flank of Fredericksburg is underway, General Sumner’s grand division is to assault Marye’s Heights on the north flank to prevent Longstreet’s troops from going to Jackson’s aid at the other end of the line. Whatever the merits of this strategy, not one word of it is communicated to the Federal grand division commanders as they go into battle. What is worse, Burnside has seriously underestimated Confederate strength along the southern flank. He has made almost no effort to reconnoiter Lee’s positions there or to keep watch on enemy movements. He believes that “a large force of the enemy is concentrated near Port Royal, its left resting near Fredericksburg.” In fact, D.H. Hill’s division has arrived in the Hamilton’s Crossing area after a night’s march from Port Royal, and Jubal Early’s division has come up from Skinker’s Neck. Jackson now has 30,000 men to defend his 3,000-yard-wide sector and is heavily supported by 33 artillery pieces. And Jeb Stuart’s cavalry division, deployed in an extended skirmish line on the extreme right and well out in front of the rest of Jackson’s corps, has its own eighteen guns.

There is, however, a weak spot in A.P. Hill’s line. When he deployed his troops yesterday, there was a gap of 600 yards between two of his brigades, approximately one fifth of his entire front. The gap is a heavily wooded area of swampy ground and tangled underbrush, in the form of a triangle with the point projected out beyond the railroad embankment at the base of the ridge for a third of a mile. Hill, assuming that this boggy area is impassable, has left it undefended and thus allowed the enemy a covered approach to the heart of the Confederate positions. Above the unmanned area, in the woods along the crest of the ridge, Hill has posted Brigadier General Maxcy Gregg’s South Carolina brigade. Gregg is a scholarly lawyer who has proven himself a lion-hearted combat leader at the Battles of Gaines’s Mill, Second Bull Run, and Antietam. But somehow, when his command was posted along the Military Road on the ridge above the undefended sector, Gregg failed to grasp that his is the only line of defense behind the gap. He is slightly deaf and either didn’t hear or didn’t understand, and persists in believing that the woods below him are held by Confederates. Moreover, he must be thinking of a near-tragedy at Second Bull Run, when his brigade mistakenly fired on some of General Jubal Early’s troops. No one was hurt, but surely the experience has been etched on Gregg’s mind. At any rate, this morning he orders his men to stack arms.

At 8:30 am, under the cover of morning fog, Franklin’s Federals move out to attack Jackson’s positions, General Meade’s division in the lead. After crossing a ravine and marching downriver parallel to the Rappahannock for about 800 yards, the attackers face right, cross the Old Richmond Road, and form a line of battle. The Confederates are roughly a thousand yards away. For about half that distance the open plain rises slightly, then dips into a gentle hollow that extends to the steep embankment of the railroad. On the other side of the tracks rises the wooded ridge where the Confederates wait. The only cover on the Federal side of the railroad is that inviting wedge of woods jutting out toward the right center of Meade’s line.

The Confederates on the ridge cannot see the force in front of them through the fog, but they can hear bands playing, the muffled sound of troops in motion, the rumble of guns and caissons, and the jingle of harnesses. Then at about 10 am the fog lifts suddenly to reveal a spectacular scene—Franklin’s entire grand division, stretching back to the river. A regiment moves out in a skirmish line, followed by Meade’s troops on the left and Gibbon’s on the right. As they advance, Federal guns on the heights across the river sweep the plain in advance of Franklin’s columns, while at the same moment smaller Federal field pieces in front and on the flanks join in to sweep the open space on all sides. Major John Pelham is watching Meade’s preparations from the Confederate cavalry position below Hamilton’s Crossing when he has a sudden inspiration. He quickly gains permission from General Stuart for a sortie of their own, and takes two field guns down a country lane to its intersection with the Old Richmond Road and opens a flanking fire at close range on the massed Federal troops. The little cannonade has a devastating effect; the lead Federal brigade falters and comes to a halt. Federal artillerymen quickly wheel their pieces and direct a brutal fire on Pelham’s position. One of his pieces is disabled and has to be withdrawn, but Pelham and his men redouble their fire with the piece left, hitching it up and changing its position frequently. In spite of first a suggestion from Stuart, then three orders to withdraw from his position, it isn’t until his ammunition is almost exhausted that he comes galloping back down the lane to rejoin Stuart’s division. His bold action has stalled the Federal advance for more than half an hour.

With the artillery threat to his left gone, General Meade starts the advance again, leaving Doubleday in position to guard against Stuart’s cavalry. Now as the Federals approach within 800 yards of the Confederate positions and still in the open, the artillery on the ridge on the right end of the line and down on the plain open fire. The Federal line wavers and halts again, and a terrific artillery duel ensues as the Federal guns on the plains and on the heights across the river try to silence the Confederate batteries and clear the wooded slopes of defenders. The duel continues at a fever pitch until about 1 pm, when the Federal troops again begin to approach the Confederate-held ridge and the gunners have to cease fire for fear of hitting their own troops. One of the last shells fired by the Federals strikes a Confederate caisson and set off a thunderous explosion that spreads confusion among some of the defenders. Union troops raise a great cheer, and Meade seizes the moment to order a charge.

Meade’s 1st Brigade pushes into the triangle of woods that has been left undefended. The men mount the railroad embankment, claw their way uphill through the underbrush, then veer to the right into the left flank of Lane’s Confederate brigade. Meade’s 2nd Brigade, meanwhile, moves through the gap and turns to their left into Archer’s right flank. Expecting a frontal assault, the Confederates are astonished to see the Federals charging from woods thought impenetrable. Two of Archer’s regiments, from Georgia and Tennessee, struggle to form a new line facing left but are thrown back in disorder. Lane’s men resist fiercely, but they too have to fall back. Thousands of Meade’s men pour into the widening gap between Lane’s and Archer’s brigades. Despite the dense brush, they surge up the hill to the crest, cross the Military Road, and storm into General Gregg’s position. Many of Gregg’s men, still thinking that there are Confederates to their front, have taken cover from the shellfire with their guns stacked nearby. As they leap for their weapons, the befuddled Gregg dashes along the Military Road on his horse, shouting to them not to fire. Incredibly, he believes the attackers to be friendly troops. The Federals fall on the rows of stacked arms, and a wild scramble ensues. Many of the unarmed men are slaughtered; the remainder flee in disarray. Gregg, a heavyset man in full general’s uniform, is an easy target; he soon falls mortally wounded, a Minié ball through his spine, as Meade’s men sweep over his command.

Then the tide shifts. Troops of Early’s and Taliaferro’s divisions, held in reserve behind Gregg’s position, come rushing through the woods to meet the Federals head-on. Seeing this, the remaining regiments of Lane’s and Archer’s brigades rally and manage to form new lines, facing the Federals in the gap. Meade’s men now find themselves taking heavy fire from three sides. Meade’s 3rd Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Conrad F. Jackson, now advances into the maelstrom. Jackson’s Federals come under heavy fire from a Confederate battery to their right and attempt to flank it, but Jackson is shot dead and his leaderless brigade driven back.

On Meade’s right, Gibbon’s supporting attack has also bogged down. Deployed north of the wooded triangle, Gibbon’s division has no cover to protect its advance to the railroad and the slope beyond, where Lane’s well-protected Confederates wait among the trees. Gibbon attacks with his 3rd Brigade, then the 2nd, but both are stopped by concentrated artillery and small-arms fire and driven back in confusion. Gibbon then orders Colonel Adrian Root’s 1st Brigade across the tracks and over the treacherous open ground. Root’s troops are soon slowed to a crawl by the devastating fire. Somehow Colonel Root and Brigadier General Nelson Taylor, commander of the 3rd Brigade, manage to keep the advance moving. At length the Federals catch sight of enemy soldiers ahead. A shout goes up; the men leap over ditches, surge over the railroad embankment, and charge into the woods, striking into the heart of Lane’s troops. In the hand-to-hand fighting that follows, the Federals initially prevail and even manage to take 200 prisoners. But in the dense growth the attackers become disorganized, and Root rides back to ask General Gibbon for help and further orders. Gibbon simply tells him to press on.

Up above on the crest, the Confederate reserves commanded by Early are continuing their furious counterattack against Meade’s troops, whose numbers have by this time been cut by more than a third. In the Federal rear at least 20,000 men stand idle, but none are ordered to support the increasingly desperate attackers as the Confederate brigades swarm down upon them. Perhaps Franklin is not sufficiently in touch with the battle and doesn’t know that reserves are needed. Perhaps his judgment has been clouded by Burnside’s indefinite and cautionary directive. At any rate, Meade’s men, then Gibbon’s, begin to yield ground, and soon are driven back over the railroad embankment and out onto the plain. The Confederate commanders have been ordered to pursue no farther than the railroad. Nevertheless, one brigade forgets the limitation in the heat of the moment and chases the Federals almost to the Old Richmond Road. Only then does Franklin’s reserve get the order to move into action. The audacious band of Confederates tear into two regiments, inflicting hundreds of casualties; for a moment it looks as though the Confederate spearhead will drive all the way to the river. But the grayclads are short of ammunition and unsupported, and before long they run into concentrated canister fire from eighteen guns. Now disorganized, the Confederates withdraw to the wooded ridge. Less than two hours after the first Federal infantry assault, both sides are back where they started. Franklin’s divisions have lost 4,830 men, with nothing to show for it but a few hundred prisoners. Jackson’s losses are also severe, 3,415 from a force of 30,000 men.

At 2:30 pm, General Burnside abruptly asserts his authority with an order to Franklin to renew the attack. But many of Franklin’s officers are by now utterly disheartened. They believed the assault to be hopeless from the outset; they had nevertheless punctured the Confederate line, only to see the advantage lost—along with thousands of lives. Many are furious with Franklin for not properly supporting Meade’s attack. Franklin, for his part, is demoralized. He has lost all faith in Burnside, and he proceeds to ignore the order to send his men into battle.

Stonewall Jackson, on the other hand, is more than ready to continue the contest. Later in the afternoon, when Franklin reforms his lines but sends out nothing more than skirmishers, Jackson decides to launch a counterattack and orders a preliminary movement by the artillery. But the movement provokes a furious response from the Federal gunners, and seeing that daylight is waning, Jackson reluctantly calls off the assault.

The Northern Flank

In Fredericksburg, soldiers are awakened by the frightening crash of artillery shells. The Confederate guns on the heights to the west have begun dropping shells into the fog-cloaked city in hopes of doing some damage to the Federal troops presumably forming in the streets. The result is “perfect pandemonium,” with shells screaming overhead and bursting among the houses; brick and metal fragments flying about, killing and maiming horses and men. Despite the shelling, the troops of General Darius N. Couch’s II Corps, of General Sumner’s grand division, stand in columns in the streets and wait for the order to advance. General Burnside’s orders to the grand division commander instruct him to send “a division or more” to seize the high ground beyond the town. Although Sumner craves action, he will not personally lead this assault. His habit of taking his men into battle is popular with the troops, but regarded by his superior as excessively rash for a grand division commander; Burnside has ordered Sumner not to cross the river. Thus, on the north flank, the two highest-ranking Federal generals—Burnside and Sumner—will be separated from the field of combat by the Rappahannock.

Once the fog lifts and the order comes to advance, the men will have to march through the town on streets leading westward toward the Confederate positions in the hills. The nearest of these is Marye’s Heights, a low ridge about 600 yards outside Fredericksburg. The intervening plain is mostly flat and open, but presents a number of obstacles to men advancing under heavy artillery fire. A few scattered houses offer some shelter, but the surrounding gardens and fences will only slow the troops. About 200 yards from the edge of town lies a canal, spanned by three narrow bridges; the men will have to form columns and file across the bridges under the very muzzles of the Confederate cannon. Worse, the planking has been torn up from one of these spans, and the advancing troops will have to pick their way across on the stringers. On the far side of the canal, a low bluff offers some cover, and about 350 yards beyond the bluff there is a slight incline, where men can get out of the direct line of Confederate fire by lying flat and hugging the ground. But elsewhere on the field, there is virtually no protection at all.

The Federal troops can see the enemy guns and troops looming on the heights, but they can only discern the outline of the closest Confederate position—a lane running along the foot of the ridge. The lane is protected on its forward edge by a stone wall four feet high. The Confederates have dug a ditch just behind the wall, packing the scooped-out earth against the stones on the exposed side for added protection and concealment. It is a nearly perfect defensive position; troops standing in what will be known as the Sunken Road can fire comfortably across the shoulder-high wall with minimum exposure to enemy rounds. The Confederate division commander on Marye’s Heights, Lafayette McLaws, has deployed a Georgia brigade in the Sunken Road, and a North Carolina regiment in trenches that extend the line northward 250 yards from the point where the wall ends. McLaws has 2,000 men on the line, with an additional 7,000 men in reserve behind the ridge. The Georgians are positioned behind the stone wall in two ranks; one rank is to fire, then step to the rear to reload while the other is firing. In addition, the Confederate infantrymen are strongly supported by artillery massed on the ridge above them. The approaches to Marye’s Heights have been so thoroughly covered that when the corps commander, General Longstreet, spots an idle gun and suggests that it be pressed into service, his artillery chief, Colonel E. Porter Alexander, casually dismisses his superior’s concern.

The fog lifts about 10 am, an hour later Sumner gives the order to advance, and the lead Federal division moves out shortly before noon. The men start off in a tightly packed column dictated by the need to cross the canal bridges, and the moment they emerge from the cover of the town their dense formation comes under murderous artillery fire. But the troops close up and press forward, trotting across one of the canal bridges toward the protective cover of the bluff on the far side. There the division forms a line of battle and, before advancing on the heights, fixes bayonets. In spite of the bombardment, General French’s brigades advance up the hill from the bluff in perfect line of battle. Kimball’s brigade, already cut up by the artillery fire, slogs grimly up the muddy slope until it is within 125 yards of the Confederate line. Suddenly a sheet of flame flares from behind the stone wall. Another Confederate volley follows quickly, then another and another. Hundreds of Federal soldiers fall dead and wounded in that awful, almost-continuous storm of lead. A few men make their way—firing, reloading, and resuming their advance—to within forty yards of the wall, and a few others run for cover among some houses nearby, but most reel back before the searing blasts and fall prone behind the incline, seeking cover from which to fire on the Confederate line. Within twenty minutes, a quarter of Kimball’s brigade has been put out of action. Kimball himself is severely wounded in the thigh and has to be carried off the field. French’s 3rd Brigade, under Colonel John W. Andrews, follows Kimball’s men into action. They reach the top of the incline and face the concentrated fire of the Georgians. There almost blown off their feet, staggering, the line holds its ground for a few minutes, then slowly and sullenly gives way. Retiring a few yards below the brow of the hill, there they lie down, clinging to the ground so desperately attained. In a little more than fifteen minutes, nearly half of Andrews’ brigade has been killed or wounded. Following closely at the double-quick, Colonel Oliver H. Palmer’s brigade gets no closer to the Sunken Road and suffers similarly devastating losses. French’s division has been shot to pieces. Now it is the turn of Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, whose division has been ordered to follow in support of French.

Hancock rides out with his staff—“as cool and brave as a lion”—giving directions and urging his men to the attack. Colonel Samuel K. Zook’s brigade charges up the hill with speed and determination. But “the losses were so tremendous that before we knew it, our momentum was gone, and the charge a failure.” The survivors fall back to the incline, which is now heaped with a grisly tangle of the dead, the wounded, and the desperate. Next comes Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade. The men, advancing at the double-quick, carry a green flag and wear green sprigs in their caps to celebrate their heritage. By chance, they face a sector of the Confederate line held by the Irishmen of Colonel Robert McMillan’s 24th Georgia Regiment. The Confederates recognize their countrymen by their green emblems, and someone exclaims, “What a pity. Here come Meagher’s fellows.” Then the Georgians take aim and mow down their fellow Irishmen. The last of Hancock’s brigades to go into action is that of Brigadier General John Caldwell. As Caldwell’s troops advance, the two regiments on the left, commanded by 23-year-old Colonel Nelson A. Miles, are ordered to shift to the right. Miles marches his men laterally through the withering fire, and then forward to within 40 yards of the stone wall. Then they too are driven back with terrible losses.

The repulse convinces Colonel Miles that the Federal tactics are dead wrong. Against the awesome strength of the Confederate position, the infantrymen have been ordered to advance in the conventional manner, stopping at intervals to fire, reloading and then moving on. As they pause in the open, they make perfect stationary targets for the Confederates. Colonel Miles believes that a bayonet charge will at least give the men a fighting chance—and just might succeed if it involves great numbers, overwhelming the Confederates with sheer mass and momentum. He offers to make such a concentrated bayonet charge, but Caldwell denies permission, deeming it a “wanton loss of brave men.” While waiting for Caldwell’s answer, Miles receives a terrible wound, a bullet catching him in the throat and coming out behind his left ear. His comrades expect him to die at any time, but Miles remains conscious and full of fight, and takes his case for a bayonet charge back to Major General Oliver O. Howard. Gripping his bleeding throat, he staggers to Howard’s headquarters, delivers his message, and then faints away.

Along the front, the slaughter continues. When the carnage has continued for an hour, General Couch, the II Corps commander, comes to the same conclusion that Colonel Miles had reached earlier: The impregnability of the stone wall to advancing riflemen requires a change of tactics. Couch sends word to Generals French and Hancock to carry the enemy works by storm; if the Confederates cannot be shot out of their position, perhaps they can be driven out by overwhelming numbers and cold steel. Then Couch climbs to the steeple of the city’s courthouse to get above the smoke and haze and survey the field. He is appalled by the sight. The entire plain is covered with the wreckage of battle: dead men and horses, blueclad soldiers falling before the enemy fire, men running about aimlessly, the wounded streaming back from the battlefield. Fresh units coming up the hill are broken up by withering artillery and infantry fire, and those still able run to the houses and fight as best they can as the next brigade comes up. From Couch’s vantage point, it is obvious that French’s and Hancock’s troops are so badly mauled that they can never mount a bayonet charge. In fact, the futility of all frontal attacks is evident to him.

Committing his last division, Couch determines to try yet another tactic. He orders General Howard to try to work two brigades around to the right of French’s and Hancock’s men to turn the Confederate left. But before the order can be executed, both French and Hancock issue desperate calls for reinforcements at the center of the line, and Howard’s division has to be sent to their aid. His men advance over and around the troops felled in the earlier assaults. Colonel Joshua Owen takes his brigade up the hill, but there’s not much left of Hancock’s division to support—it has lost 2,049 men, 42 percent of its strength. Owen orders his men to lie down and fire only when they see a target. Then he calls for reinforcements. Another brigade and two regiments move up to support, but can make no headway. Another division attacks on the left, but is pinned down.

Four divisions have now tried to carry the position that Burnside expected to seize with “a division or more,” and all have been repulsed with heavy losses. After two hours of fruitless slaughter, the Federals pause to reform their shattered units.

On the other side of the stone wall, the Confederates remain supremely confident. Longstreet had been worried about what might happen to Cobb’s brigade at the stone wall if the weaker line to the north should be forced to withdraw; he even sent an urgent message to Cobb to fall back in the event that the Federals turn the left flank, but Cobb was having none of it. Observing the battle from a nearby hill, Robert E. Lee at one point also expresses some concern, and now it is Longstreet who offers reassurance. Nevertheless, Longstreet prudently hedges his bets. He has Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw move two regiments down from the ridge, and they join Cobb’s Georgians in the Sunken Road just as two reinforcing regiments sent by General Ransom arrive there. Cobb is deploying his men to meet the renewed assault when he suddenly gasps and falls to the ground. A sharpshooter’s bullet has struck him in the thigh, severing an artery. Stretcher-bearers rush him to a small house nearby, where a surgeon tries in vain to stop the bleeding. Within minutes, General Cobb is dead. General Kershaw takes command at the stone wall. With his reinforcements in the line, he now has four ranks of infantry behind the wall, capable of generating a concentrated firepower that Kershaw will describe as “the most rapid and continuous that I have ever witnessed.”

By early afternoon the Federal lines facing Longstreet on the north and Jackson on the south have fallen back with heavy casualties. The Army of the Potomac, its organization and will to fight rapidly disintegrating, desperately needs a fresh approach, but General Burnside’s stubborn streak reasserts itself. It has taken him the better part of a month to decide how to fight this battle, and now that he has committed himself he can neither give up nor change his course; he simply orders Franklin to renew his attack on Jackson—this the order that Franklin ignores—and directs Hooker, who has been holding his grand division in reserve, to cross the Rappahannock and put everything he has into a renewed attack on Marye’s Heights. While his troops are crossing the river, General Hooker does what Burnside has yet to do; he rides onto the battlefield, confers with officers on the scene, and assesses the situation. Hooker is soon convinced “that it would be a useless waste of life to attack with the force at my disposal.” And he goes back across the river to advise Burnside not to attack.

During Hooker’s absence, his V Corps commander, Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, orders the 1st Division onto the field to relieve Sturgis’ troops on the left. Three brigades are sent, one by one, against the Confederate position. General Couch, watching the battle, can see Sturgis’ troops being cut down, and against the protests of his chief of artillery he determines to send a battery forward across the canal to a position only 150 yards from the stone wall to shell the entrenched Confederate line. The six-gun battery comes under heavy fire from sharpshooters and cannon the moment they begin to gallop forward. Many of the horses and men are shot down before the guns can even be unlimbered. The crews do manage to open fire, but for all their gallantry are unable to affect the outcome. The Federal troops remain pinned. Meanwhile, someone in Hancock’s battered division spots troop movements on Marye’s Heights and jumps to the erroneous conclusion that the Confederates are retreating, and General Andrew Humphreys is ordered to lead his division forward. He and his staff—including his son—lead his 1st Brigade in yet another gallant advance across the same bloody ground. They have no more success than the units that have proceeded them, and Humphreys, like Miles and Couch before him, realizes that nothing can be accomplished so long as the men continue to stop in order to take aim and fire at the Confederates. Returning to where his 2nd Brigade stand waiting their turn to attack, Humphreys orders his men not to load their rifles, but to fix bayonets and charge right over the masses of men prostrate on the little incline. Once again he leads the way into the storm of artillery and musket fire as Federals lying wounded on the ground call out for the attackers to halt and lie down or they’ll all be killed. Some of the wounded even reach up to clutch at the advancing troops to stop them. The Confederates wait until the Federals come within 50 yards, then their quintuple line rises up from behind the stone wall and delivers their withering fire. The first Federal line melts, but the second comes steadily on, over the dead and dying of the former charges, to suffer the same fate. With yet another 1,000 men dead and wounded since the fighting has been renewed, the Federal line falls back again, despite the efforts of Humphreys and other officers to hold it. A division is ordered to cover Humphreys’ retreat, are scarcely deployed before being caught in the Confederate fire storm, and like those before them find what cover they can on the open plain and remain there under fire.

Hooker returns at last from his fruitless meeting with Burnside; the commanding general has rebuffed Hooker’s objections and demanded that the attacks continue. Although the day is waning fast, Hooker orders Brigadier General George W. Getty’s division of IX Corps to launch an assault against the Confederate position on the left, at the foot of the section of Marye’s Heights known as Willis’s Hill. Colonel Rush Hawkins’ brigade draws the onerous duty. For a time the Confederates don’t detect Hawkins’ troops advancing in the twilight, but that only delays the inevitable and the defenders’ fire shatters and repulses Hawkins’ men as they have all the others.

Hooker orders an end to the fighting for the day; later he will observe that he has “lost as many men as his orders required.” Seven divisions have now been hurled against the enemy position on Marye’s Heights, at a cost of about 7,000 casualties; the Confederates there have lost only 1,200 men, and they have allowed not a single Federal soldier to reach the stone wall. When Sumer’s and Hooker’s casualties are added to Franklin’s losses down the river, the Federal toll comes to 1,284 killed, 9,600 wounded, and 1,769 missing, a total of 12,653 casualties for the proud Army of the Potomac. An estimated 114,000 men were engaged. For the Confederates, 595 have been killed, 4,061 wounded, and 653 missing, for 5,309 casualties of about 72,500 engaged.

The Aftermath and Elsewhere

Bitter cold descends on the plain with the night. Some of the Federal troops have been ordered to hold their position, and other units remain pinned to the ground for fear of enemy fire. The thousands of wounded still lying on the field suffer appallingly. They cry out for help, for water, for their mothers, and for death. As wounded men die, their bodies quickly freeze, and many are stacked up to form barriers against the biting cold for those who still live. Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, whose 20th Maine regiment is pinned down before the stone wall, sleeps between two such corpses for shelter, drawing a third crosswise to serve as a pillow and pulling a dead man’s coat flap over his face for warmth. Federal stretcher-bearers come and go, carrying off as many of the wounded as they can. Scavengers from both sides roam the battlefield, stripping the dead of their uniforms. After midnight, two brigades of Sykes’s Federals are ordered to a forward position on the field. During their march across the blasted plain they come across a low brick house, with light shining from an open door. Looking inside as they pass, they see a gaunt, hard-featured woman with wild hair and eyes, sitting with a smoking candle, staring past the six corpses lying across her doorway and at her feet into the darkness.

During the night, nature puts on an unearthly show, as if to emphasize the events of the day just past. The sky is emblazoned with the fiery glow of the Northern Lights, seldom seen so far south.

General Burnside spends most of the night visiting various units and conferring with their commanders, belatedly assessing the situation and agonizing over what to do next. He maintains a cheerful front, but as General Couch will later say, “It was plain that he felt he had led us to a great disaster, and one knowing him so long and well as myself could see he wished his body was also lying in front of Marye’s Heights. I never felt so badly for a man in my life.”

There is fighting elsewhere: at Leesburg, Virginia; on Southwest Creek, North Carolina; and a Federal raid December 13-19 on the Mobile & Ohio Railroad from Corinth to Tupelo, Mississippi.

At Murfreesboro, Tennessee, President Davis, on his Western inspection tour, reviews Bragg’s army and confers with his generals.
December 14, Sunday

In the early morning hours, General Burnside returns to his headquarters across the river from Fredericksburg and orders IX Corps to prepare to resume the attack when daylight comes; apparently the distraught army commander intends to lead the advance in person. But around dawn, just before the new attack is to begin, General Sumner comes to Burnside and objects vigorously to the plan. Burnside once again consults his top commanders. Their advice is unanimous, and Burnside relents; there will be no further attacks. At noon, General Burnside holds another council of war. It is decided to withdraw Franklin’s troops on the south flank and Sumner’s and Hooker’s on the north. But the town will be held so that there will be something to show for the enormous sacrifice. All but 12,000 men will recross the river.

Meanwhile, all through the day the men on the field wait under fire for orders to move. “We laid up a breastwork of dead bodies, Colonel Chamberlain will write. “We lay there all the long day, hearing the dismal thud of bullets into the dead flesh of our lifesaving bulwarks. No relief could dare reach us.” Confederates behind the stone wall can hear the wounded men groaning and calling for water. After a time the appeals become more than Sergeant Richard Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina can bear. The sergeant seeks out General Kershaw and wins his reluctant approval to take some water to the Federals on the field. Kershaw warns him that he might be shot, yet refuses him permission to display a white handkerchief lest the Federal think that a parley is being requested. Kirkland goes anyway, and spends hours tending to the men lying in misery on the cold, muddy ground. His name will be remembered and after the War a street in Fredericksburg named in his honor.

The aftermath of battle causes little immediate rejoicing in the South. Lee is criticized, probably unjustly, because he doesn’t counterattack. Although the huge Federal army lies beaten in his front, it is still a mighty host and protected by massive batteries on the heights across the river. But eventually, as the news sinks in, there is jubilation throughout the South.

There is, of course, no laughter in the North. In Washington the President calls upon his generals and advisers for conferences. As the wounded stream back to the capital and long lists of the dead appear in the newspapers, a mood of despondency settled over the Union, and cries for a negotiated peace are heard. Burnside and his subordinates are bitterly criticized for the defeat. The main target of the attacks, however, is President Lincoln. Among his critics is the publisher of the influential Chicago Tribune, Joseph Medill, who lays the “central imbecility” of the Fredericksburg Campaign directly on the President. The respected historian and former US Secretary of War, George Bancroft, castigates Lincoln and his associates. The President, he says, is “ignorant, self-willed, and is surrounded by men some of whom are as ignorant as himself.” The Radical Republican Senator from Michigan, Zachariah Chandler, gloomily concludes that “the President is a weak man, too weak for the occasion, and those fool or traitor generals are wasting time and yet more precious blood in indecisive battles and delays.” Lincoln himself is distraught. He describes his own state of mind: “If there is a worse place than hell, I am in it.”

In the West there is an affair near Helena, Arkansas; an attack on a Federal forage train on the Franklin Pike near Nashville; and a four-day Federal expedition against the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in Mississippi. A skirmish is fought at Waterford, Virginia; and the Federal expedition under Major General John G. Foster from New Berne succeeds in taking Kinston, North Carolina.
December 15, Monday

By nightfall, the Federals have managed to withdraw their men from the battlefield beyond Fredericksburg. Under the cover of a driving rainstorm, the dispirited troops begin their evacuation, crossing the Rappahannock on pontoon bridges that have been covered with dirt and straw to muffle the sound of tramping feet. Officers bicker, grumble, and quarrel, and everyone questions Burnside’s decisions.

Nathan Bedford Forrest, who has left Columbia, Tennessee, four days ago to harass Grant’s lines of communications, crosses the Tennessee at Clifton with about 2,500 men. Something has to be done to aid Pemberton at Vicksburg.

There is an affair at White Hall Bridge, North Carolina, in John G. Foster’s Federal move toward Goldsborough; and a skirmish at Neosho, Missouri.

At New Orleans Major General Benjamin Butler bids farewell to his command and to the people of New Orleans, most of who are jubilant over his departure.
December 16, Tuesday

During the early-morning hours, General Burnside has another change of heart. It is too dangerous, he decides, to try to leave only 12,000 men to hold Fredericksburg, the II and V Corps must leave as well. At 7:30 am, the last units cross the river, and the pontoons are cut loose and taken up. Ironically, the Federal withdrawal proves to be the best-executed movement of the entire operation. The Army of the Potomac crouches on Stafford Heights overlooking the Rappahannock, still disheartened after Fredericksburg. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia awake this morning expecting that the Federals will resume their disastrous attacks, only to find that the entire army is gone. They stand triumphant in defense. The news of the Federal retreat is now greeted with jubilation throughout the South. The cost—1,284 Federals were killed, 9,600 wounded, and 1,769 missing, a total of 12,653 casualties for the proud Army of the Potomac out of an estimated 114,000 engaged. For the Confederates, 595 were killed, 4,061 wounded, and 653 missing for 5,309 casualties for the triumphant Army of Northern Virginia out of about 72,500 engaged.

At New Orleans Major General Nathaniel P. Banks assumes command of the Federal Department of the Gulf, replacing the departed Butler.

In the West Confederate Forrest continues his march in Tennessee.

The Union Goldsborough expedition in North Carolina nears its goal with an engagement at White Hall and fighting at Mount Olive Station and Goshen Swamp.

In western Virginia there is a skirmish at Wardensville.

President Lincoln postpones the execution of the Sioux Amerinds from December 19 to December 26.
December 17, Wednesday

General Grant has received an unexpected visit from his father, Jesse Grant, who brought along some friends from Cincinnati by the name of Mack. Grant welcomes them—until he discovers that the Macks are cotton speculators hoping to use his father as a way of getting at the supplies in Grant’s jurisdiction. Furious, Grant sends the Macks packing; he then draws up and circulates an order that is meant to put an end, once and for all, to cotton speculation. The wording of General Order 11, however, is ill-advised and offensive in the extreme: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” It appears that Grant is trying to eliminate the tremendous amount of illegal speculation along the Mississippi. Perhaps Grant equates Jews with the peddlers and speculators that plague his camps. On the other hand, it could be charged as an indictment of a religious group. At any rate, the order will have political and social ramifications for Grant for years. It also results in discomfort to a number of Jews, though it will never be put entirely into effect.

General Burnside sends a report on the Battle of Fredericksburg to General in Chief Halleck. In it, Burnside attributes the failure of his plan to the late arrival of the pontooons. But he manfully accepts full blame for the disaster. “The fact that I decided to move from Warrenton onto this line rather against the opinion of the President, Secretary and yourself, and that you have left the whole management in my hands, without giving me orders, makes me the more responsible.” After reading the official report the President, despite his anguish, frames a consoling reply—addressed not to Burnside, but to the Army of the Potomac. “Although you were not successful, the attempt was not an error, nor the failure other than accident. The courage with which you, in an open field, maintained the contest against an entrenched foe, and the consummate skill and success with which you crossed and recrossed the river in the face of the enemy, show that you possess all the qualities of a great army, which will yet give victory to the cause of the country and of popular government. Condoling with the mourners of the dead, and sympathizing with the severely wounded, I congratulate you that the number is comparatively so small. I tender to you, officers and soldiers, the thanks of the nation.”

As a result of continual political disputes with Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, the Union Secretary of State, William H. Seward, and his son and assistant, Frederick W. Seward, resign. However, the resignations are not accepted.

Near Goldsborough, North Carolina, the Federal expedition fires an important bridge, fights a stubborn engagement, and withdraws by December 20 to New Berne. There is Federal reconnaissance on Virginia’s Peninsula to Diascund Bridge and Burnt Ordinary; and from this day to the twenty-first there is a Federal expedition from New Madrid to Clarkton, Missouri.
December 18, Thursday

Confederate Forrest defeats Union cavalry at Lexington, Tennessee, in his campaign against Grant’s supply lines. Meanwhile, Grant’s army is formally organized with the XV Corps under William T. Sherman, the XVI Corps under Stephen A. Hurlbut, the XVII under James B. McPherson, and the XIII under John A. McClernand. The latter appointment practically ends the machinations of McClernand, aided by Lincoln, to form a completely separate army to operate against Vicksburg. Grant has been ordered to place McClernand in command over Sherman, but even these orders are delayed thanks to Forrest’s cutting the telegraph lines, leaving McClernand steaming in Springfield, Illinois.

Meanwhile, there is a skirmish near Water Valley, Mississippi.

President Lincoln receives a committee of nine Republican senators and discusses reconstruction of the Federal Cabinet and the submitted resignation of Seward as Secretary of State.

President Davis, visiting Chattanooga, Tennessee, writes Secretary of War Seddon that the troops at Murfreesboro are in good condition and fine spirits. He adds that cavalry expeditions under Forrest and Morgan are expected to break up Federal communications to both Buell and Grant. President Davis is anxious over sentiment in east Tennessee and north Alabama as “There is some hostility and much want of confidence in our strength.”

South Carolina passes a law providing for the organization of Black labor to work on defenses.
December 19, Friday

The Cabinet crisis in Washington takes most of President Lincoln’s day. In the evening there is a joint meeting of the Cabinet, except Seward, and the Senate Republican caucus committee. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair also offers to resign. Lincoln advises Burnside to come to Washington if it is safe to do so.

Forrest strikes the railroads near Jackson, Tennessee, in his drive against Grant’s supply lines with a skirmish nearby. Other skirmishes are at Spring Creek, Tennessee, and on the Occoquan in Virginia.

President Davis and General Johnston visit Vicksburg.
December 20, Saturday

Pemberton has put into motion the second barrel of his double-barreled assault on General Grant’s supply line. General Forrest’s raid on Jackson, Tennessee, has been successful, and now Pemberton’s second barrel fires as Major General Van Dorn, now in charge of his cavalry, descends on General Grant’s supply base at Holly Springs, Mississippi. Grant has perceived the danger and sent warnings to his officers, including the commander at Holly Springs—Colonel Robert Murphy of the 8th Wisconsin, who proved so ineffectual at Iuka three months ago. Despite the alert, Murphy is caught unprepared when Van Dorn strikes at daylight. Most of the Federal garrison of 1,500 men surrender without firing a shot. Only one unit of Illinois cavalry chooses to fight, and with flashing sabers 350 troopers charge through the attacking Confederate cavalry; they lose 100 men, but make good their escape. Otherwise, the Confederates have the day to themselves, destroying a huge stockpile of supplies—$400,000 worth (2020, ~$10.3 million) by Grant’s estimate, $1.5 million worth (2020, ~$38.6 million) by Van Dorn’s.

This also has the effect of breaking Federal communications lines for weeks—with the happy result that full enforcement of Grant’s General Order No. 11 is delayed, sparing many Jews from potential removal. Van Dorn also hits other lesser posts.

To the north, Forrest further ruptures the railroads and fights skirmishes at Trenton and Humboldt. As a result, Grant is forced to give up his plans for an overland campaign and he withdraws from Oxford, Mississippi, to La Grange, Tennessee. The Confederate successes also disrupt Grant’s plan to cooperate with Sherman’s move down the Mississippi toward Chickasaw Bayou north of Vicksburg. Unfortunately for Sherman, it will also disrupt Grant’s attempt to alert him that Grant’s part of their two-pronged attack is no longer possible, and so Sherman should stop his waterborne attack. Sherman’s force leaves this same day from Memphis in about a hundred transports.

Fighting includes Forked Deer River, Tennessee; and Coldwater, Mississippi; as well as skirmishes at Kelly’s Ford and Occoquan, Virginia, and Halltown, western Virginia; and Cane Hill, Arkansas.

Confederate Private Asa Lewis of the 6th Kentucky, absent without leave and returned to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by a bounty hunter, today is brought before a court-martial. His story is not unusual. His 12-month enlistment has expired, and he felt that an edict requiring his regiment to serve either for three years or for the duration of the war does not apply to him since he has not reenlisted. Moreover, he is urgently needed at home—his father has died, leaving his mother with three young children, and Lewis is the family’s only means of support. He had applied for a furlough to go home and plant a crop, but his request was denied. Unfortunately for Lewis, he has deserted once before and had been let off with a warning. For a second desertion, the sentence is death. General Bragg approves the sentence and orders General Hanson to carry out the execution on the 26th. The outraged Kentucky officers campaign to have the sentence commuted. Lewis’s division commander, General Breckinridge himself, visits Bragg to plead for Lewis’ life, charging heatedly that the execution would be murder. But Bragg is determined to make an example of the deserter.

In Washington, Secretary of the Treasury Chase hands President Lincoln his resignation, adding it to Seward’s. Cabinet members call and the President finally ends the dispute by refusing to accept any of the resignations and asking the Secretaries of State and the Treasury to resume their duties. They do so, but the crisis leaves its mark.
December 21, Sunday

Raiding and minor fighting seems to be the order of the early winter. Confederate John Hunt Morgan leaves Alexandria near Carthage, Tennessee, on a Christmas raid into Kentucky against Federal supply lines. Fighting occurs at Davis’ Mill, Mississippi; Rutherford’s Station, Union City, and on the Wilson Creek Pike, Tennessee; at Van Buren, Arkansas; and Strasburg, Virginia. There are two-day reconnaissances from Stafford Court House to Kellysville and from Potomac Creek Bridge toward Warrenton, and another to Catlett’s Station and Brentsville, all by Federals in Virginia. There also is a Union expedition December 21-23 from Fayetteville to Huntsville, Arkansas.

President Davis, at Vicksburg, writes to General T.H. Holmes that it seems “clearly developed that the enemy has two principle objects in view, one to get control of the Missi. River, and the other to capture the capital of the Confederate States.” However, Davis thinks that the defeat at Fredericksburg has probably halted any move toward Richmond for the winter. He adds that to prevent the Federals from controlling the Mississippi and “dismembering the Confederacy, we must mainly depend upon maintaining the points already occupied by defensive works: to-wit, Vicksburg and Port Hudson.”

President Davis and General Johnston travel by train to Grenada, sixty miles south of Oxford, to visit General Pemberton and his army there keeping watch on General Grant. It becomes clear that Davis’s belief that the Confederates should defend Vicksburg by turning it into a fortress is shared by Pemberton but not by Johnston, who advocates smashing the Federal forces wherever they can be found.
President Davis and General Johnston travel by train to Grenada, sixty miles south of Oxford, to visit General Pemberton and his army there keeping watch on General Grant. It becomes clear that Davis’s belief that the Confederates should defend Vicksburg by turning it into a fortress is shared by Pemberton but not by Johnston, who advocates smashing the Federal forces wherever they can be found.

I have to say that I think Johnston had the sounder instincts. Turning Vicksburg into a fortress is just challenging the Union to take it. And guys like Grant or Sherman would relish the challenge. No, the best way of defending Vicksburg was to degrade the means by which the Union could take it - namely, by smashing the Federal forces wherever they could be found.
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