Battle of Fredericksburg
Fredericksburg rises from the fall line of the Rappahannock River. Its natural hills are generally considered to be just part of the scenic landscape. Wealthy townspeople, such as the Willis and Marye families, built their mansions on the heights. Before the Civil War, the scenery was pleasant but otherwise unremarkable.
In November and December of 1862, Confederate troops, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, fortified the hills above Fredericksburg. The townspeople were mostly evacuated, which was well as what was to follow certainly resembled a hell on earth.
Two armies faced each other in winter camps across the Rappahannock River. The fighting in December had gone very badly for the Union as they tried to take the Confederate position at Marye’s Heights. Friends and sometimes family had been killed, and the Southern town of Fredericksburg was largely left in ruins.
For months, these two enemy armies went about their business on opposite sides of the river. During those long days and nights, they weren’t firing cannons anymore, but they were sending out volleys of music to lift their soldiers’ spirits. Each side had its patriotic songs. Often they had the same tune but different words, and each side would sing and cheer their own bands.
On those winter nights, they might close with a special tune. One that everyone sang the same words to: “Home, Sweet Home.”
In antebellum Fredericksburg, the Knox family was rather well-off and respected by their community. The family home at 1200 Princess Anne Street, now the Kenmore Inn, was nigh unto their house of worship at St. George’s Episcopal Church. They ran a successful business and had a pleasant life filled with many luxuries.
Yet by the time the Civil War was over, sons Robert and James Knox had experienced the dire consequences of battle from trench to prison camp. The rest of the family, forced to evacuate the Fredericksburg several times, learned to live as refugees and take care of themselves as well as the people they met.
Virginia's many rivers were strategic points in the Civil War. Thousands of men had to cross them at a time, whether by boat or pontoon bridge, or, in shallower places, on foot. Major rivers slowed down--or, in the case of flood, could block movement entirely. Generals placed their supply depots on rivers, and gunboats patrolled the waters, blasting artillery positions as well as enemy strongholds in large plantation houses.
In Mark Nesbitt's Rebel Rivers, readers are treated to an easy-to-follow guide to river sites and their Civil War history. Rebel Rivers, published by Stackpole Books, is available to check out from the library. The author is also the creator of the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours® and the Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours.
This excerpt is used with the author/copyright holder's permission.
Excerpt from War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by Donald C. Pfanz, (pp. 44-46)
Donald C. Pfanz is staff historian with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He is also the author of Abraham Lincoln at City Point and Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life. This chapter is reprinted on CRRL's history site with his permission.
“The Sacking of Fredericksburg”
By the time the fighting ended on Dec. 11, Fredericksburg was desolate. Fighting in the streets combined with a bombardment by more than 180 cannons had left the venerable old town shattered and ruins. Those citizens who had not fled Fredericksburg had seen their homes riddled with bullets, shot and shell.
One hundred and forty-seven years ago, lines of blue advanced on a hillside near the outskirts of Fredericksburg. Those heights were manned by gray-uniformed soldiers, powerfully well-armed and rather surprised that the Union commander should send wave after wave of troops into their maelstrom of cannon and rifle fire. What followed was a slaughter about which Confederate General Robert E. Lee said, "It is well that war is so terrible...we should grow too fond of it."
When some Yankee looters tried to supplement their rations with stocks from Fredericksburg homes and businesses in December of 1862, they bit off more than they could chew.
December 14th, 1862
In Fredericksburg, Va.
By the Fredericksburg Department of Tourism
During the American Civil War, Fredericksburg's geographic location drew contending armies to its environs with a deadly inevitability. The City is located on the banks of a river that served as a natural defensive barrier as well as astride a north-south rail corridor that helped keep the large armies supplied. On four separate occasions, the Union Army of the Potomac, fought the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in and around the City. These clashes left over 100,000 casualties and a scarred landscape in their wake.
By the Fredericksburg Area Tourism Department
In 1714, the Stuart dynasty ended in England with the death of Queen Anne. George I, elector of Hanover, Germany, was selected to become the next ruler of England, thus beginning the long reign of the House of Hanover.
Hanover Street, named after the House of Hanover, was developed on part of a tract of land granted in 1671 to early Virginia settlers Thomas Royston and John Buckner. The street was one of Fredericksburg's original eight streets, when the city was granted its charter in 1728.
Emma Edmonds kept a wartime journal which she later expanded into a book, available today as Nurse and Spy in the Union Army. In this selection, "Frank Thompson" volunteers to substitute for General Hancock's aide-de-camp. Here she tells of a wild ride, an unexpected death, and a wounded officer.
Battle-field, Fredericksburg, VA.,
December 13, 1862
I rode three miles with General H. to General Franklin's headquarters, the second night we were at Fredericksburg, and all the night that I can recall to mind that was the darkest. On our way we had numerous ditches to leap, various ravines to cross, and mountains to climb, which can be better imagined than described. It was not only once or twice that horse and rider went tumbling into chasms head first, but frequently.