The Battle of Fredericksburg

Burnside's advance on Richmond was halted at Fredericksburg, a Virginia town located near the Rappa-hannock River. As Burnside reached the outskirts of the city, he encountered seventy-five thousand Confederate troops under the direction of Lee, Jackson, and Longstreet. Burnside had a huge army of 120,000 men under his command, and he decided to launch a series of frontal assaults against the rebel positions.

As Burnside's December 13 attack on the Confederate's defensive positions unfolded, Union casualties mounted at a frightening pace. Lee's

ESS® "The Angel of Marye's SCS Heights"

One of the true heroes of the Battle of Fredericksburg was Sergeant Richard R. Kirk-land of the Second South Carolina Volunteers. On December 13, Union general Ambrose Burnside made repeated attempts to break through the Confederate defenses with frontal assaults. This foolish strategy failed, and with each withdrawal of Federal troops, they had to leave wounded comrades behind.

Burnside finally called a halt to the attacks, and quiet fell over the battlefield. After the fighting stopped, Confederate soldiers defending Marye's Heights and other rebel positions could hear the moans and cries of wounded Union soldiers out on the field. The suffering of the wounded Yankees became too much for Kirkland to bear. The young Confederate decided that he had to try and help the wounded soldiers.

Kirkland ran over to his commander and asked for permission to leave the safety of the Confederate line and carry canteens of water to the suffering Union soldiers. The commander granted Kirk-land's request, even though everyone thought that Union troops would shoot him as soon as he left the protection of the wall at Marye's Heights.

Kirkland knew that he might be shot and killed, but he did not let fear prevent him from carrying out his mission of mercy. He jumped over the wall with an armful of canteens and ran out to the fallen wounded soldiers. Kirkland expected a rifle shot to ring out at any time, ending his life. But the amazed Union soldiers in the distance held

Andrew Russell Fredericksburg
Confederate soldiers lie dead behind a stone wall at Marye's Heights in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (Photograph by Andrew J. Russell. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

their fire and stared as he comforted numerous Yankee soldiers. Both armies watched quietly as he went from soldier to soldier, the only moving form on a battlefield covered with dead and wounded men. Kirkland spent an hour and a half providing water and reassuring words to enemy soldiers before returning to the Confederate line.

Kirkland's heroism at Fredericksburg made a deep impression on both armies. They called him "the Angel of Marye's Heights" and "The Hero-Sergeant of Fredericksburg." After the battle, Kirkland continued to serve as a member of the Second South Carolina Volunteers. But he only lived for another ten months before being killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia.

Burial Dead Fredericksburg

Bodies of dead soldiers are gathered for burial following the Battle of Fredericksburg.

(Photograph by Timothy H. Sullivan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Bodies of dead soldiers are gathered for burial following the Battle of Fredericksburg.

(Photograph by Timothy H. Sullivan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

troops were well fortified and determined to protect their positions, but

Burnside and his lieutenants continued to order their men forward into a hail of gunfire. "[Union soldiers] fought until late in the afternoon under murderous fire, gaining little more than feet or yards," wrote Herman Hattaway in Shades of Blue and Gray. "It was a futile, wild, fantastic, direct slam against a well-entrenched enemy, and it failed miserably." As one Union officer later recalled, "the whole plain [at Fredericksburg] was covered with men, prostrate and dropping. . . . I had never before seen fighting like that—nothing approaching it in terrible uproar and destruction."

On December 14, Burnside called off the attack. A day later, he finally withdrew his forces from Fredericksburg and returned to Washington, where he reported to a disappointed Lincoln. The Battle of Fredericksburg had been a humiliating defeat for the Union. Burnside's Army of the Potomac suffered more than 12,500 casualties in the clash, while the rebel army had lost only 5,300 men to death or injury. But Lincoln wanted to give Burnside another chance, so he left him in command.

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  • ruairidh
    Who was the union soldier that was futile, wild, fantastic direct slam against enemy?
    9 years ago
  • tomi
    How many union soldiers fought in the battle of fredericksburg?
    8 years ago
  • anton
    How did lincoln react o the battle of fredericksburg?
    1 year ago
  • veera
    What was the battle of fredericksburg effect on abraham lincoln?
    2 months ago

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