Thursday, December 13, 2012

150 years ago: The Battle of Fredericksburg

I have been rather lax in my observations, but as of April 2011, we have, with each passing second, been living through the 150-year anniversary of the War for Southern Independ... er... the Civil War.


On this day 150 years ago - December 13, 1862 - one of the war's biggest butcheries took place as the Union Army of the Potomac was sent by its inept commander, General Ambrose Burnside, across several hundred yards of open ground toward Confederate positions behind a stone wall located at the base of Marye's Heights.  The sight of the slaughter that ensued prompted Robert E. Lee to famously remark, "It is well that war is so terrible; otherwise we should grow too fond of it."

The official number of dead in this one-sided battle has traditionally been tallied at 608 killed on the Confederate side, and 1,284 killed on the Union side.  However, recent research has found that the number of killed in Civil War battles was often grossly underreported, and the number of Union dead from the Battle of Fredericksburg is more likely around 3,100.  This is after taking into account the massive number of "missing" that turned out to have died in front of the Confederate stone wall, and also the wounded who later died within weeks of the battle's aftermath.

I have been to the Fredericksburg battlefield twice.  The field over which the Union soldiers traversed in their attempts to reach the stone wall has been built over with houses, but a good portion of the stone wall is still there, along with some original houses near the wall (complete with bullet holes gaping in their siding), and there is a massive cemetery on top of Marye's Heights.  Being built over, the Fredericksburg battlefield doesn't quite have the impact of the pristine preservation of Gettysburg, but standing in front of the stone wall and seeing what, for thousands of Union soldiers, was the last thing they would ever see was quite sobering.

I have already missed my opportunities to mention Fort Sumter (April 2011), First Manassas (July 2011) Shiloh (April 2012), Seven Days Battles (June 2012), and Second Bull Run (August 2012), and Antietam (September 2012).  I promise to be better from now on, especially since some of the biggest battles of the war took place in 1863.  That means come the spring of 2013, I will need to pay attention.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be."  -Thomas Jefferson

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