Unlike George McClellan might have, Burnside quickly recovered after the
defeat. Political pressure (and General Halleck) called for a winter
campaign, despite the obvious impediments it posed for the aggressor.
Burnside proposed a flanking maneuver and issued orders for the movement,
but on the eve of the offensive General Franklin gave the two
senior generals in one of his divisions leave to visit President
Lincoln and discourage him about the operation. Though he obviously
disapproved of this intrigue, the president did direct Burnside to
cancel his orders and the general sailed up to Washington to discuss his
obstructionist subordinates. They came to no conclusion, though, and
Burnside went back to the army.
BETWEEN BATTLES, SOLDIERS OF NORTH AND SOUTH TRADED
NEWSPAPERS AND OTHER SMALL ARTICLES WITH ONE ANOTHER BY
MEANS OF SMALL SAIL BOATS SENT ACROSS THE RIVER.
(EDWIN FORBES, ARMY SKETCHBOOK)|
For the next three weeks Burnside planned a third campaign, but when his
divisions finally started rolling upriver they ran into a three-day
deluge that mired them in knee-deep mud. Franklin, Hooker, and the rest
now abandoned any pretense of disguising their contempt for Burnside's
ability, laughing at his plight. Their headquarters echoed with
insubordinate sarcasm: even one officer who had begun to believe the
gossip about Burnside thought Franklin's disparaging remarks had
demoralized his entire grand division, and he felt Franklin ought to be
court-martialed for it.
So did Burnside, who returned to Washington with the draft of an order
for the dismissal or relief of eight senior field commanders and staff
officersHooker, Franklin, and Smith among them. Long ago he had
concluded that these men had ruined the army's confidence in him now he
told Lincoln either he or they would have to go. After some thought, the
president decided Burnside was right and agreed to replace him. On the
night of January 25, 1863, Burnside returned to Falmouth from the capital. The
following morning he turned the army over to its new commander, Joe
Hooker, and went home to await another assignment.
The armies that had clashed on the plain and the heights faced each
other across the Rappahannock the rest of that winter. Pickets chatted
and traded, but in the spring they renewed the suspended hostilities.
Hooker divided his forces for a feint-and-flank maneuver much like
Burnside's last planand it might have worked, if Hooker had not
lost his nerve on the same field where Stonewall Jackson achieved his
greatest brilliancebut early in May a defeated Army of the Potomac
returned to its Falmouth camp for the second time. A few weeks later
Robert E. Lee slipped around the blue host on a march that led him to
Gettysburg, where he would find his own stone wall, and the people of
Fredericksburg drifted back to their battered homes to begin life
BIVOUAC OF THE DEAD
On fame's eternal
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards
with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.
The Battle of Fredericksburg left thousands of dead and mangled
soldiers in its wake. In front of Marye's Heights, Federal bodies lay
scattered in such profusion that it seemed to Confederates looking down
on the scene that the deadly plain was carpeted in blue. More than 1,500
soldiers died in the battle; exposure and disease during the ensuing
winter added hundreds more to that number.
A CONFEDERATE GRAVE (NPS)|
In most instances, soldiers who died on the field of battle were buried
near where they fell. On the southern end of the battlefield,
Confederate officers agreed to a temporary cease-fire on December 15 to
enable Union soldiers to bury their dead. At Marye's Heights, the dead
remained on the ground until December 17-18, when, with Robert E. Lee's
permission, Union burial parties recrossed the Rappahannock River and
laid their fallen comrades to rest.
Soldiers buried the bodies hastily, often in mass graves. Many of those
who fell in Meade's assault were buried en masse along the railroad,
while at Marye's Heights hundreds of bodies were placed side-by-side in
a trench not far from the stone wall, or simply dumped into a nearby
icehouse. In some cases, the graves were so shallow that animals rooted
up the corpses and devoured them.
On July 17, 1862, Congress passed the National Cemetery Act, providing
for the proper burial of those who died fighting for the Union. After
the war, the United States government purchased twelve acres of land on
Marye's Heights to be a national cemetery. Contractors gathered the
bodies of soldiers killed at Fredericksburg and other area battlefields
and interred them at the new cemetery. By 1869 the work was completed.
The remains of fifteen thousand Union soldiers were brought to
Fredericksburg, making it one of the largest national cemeteries in the
country. Few had identification. As a result, almost 85 percent of those
soldiers buried at the cemetery are unknown.
FREDERICKSBURG NATIONAL CEMETERY (NPS)|
National cemeteries were the exclusive domain of Union dead. Confederate
soldiers were buried at private expense in local graveyards throughout
the South. At Fredericksburg, an organization known as The Ladies'
Memorial Association purchased a plot of land adjacent to the
Fredericksburg City Cemetery and brought the remains of more than 3,300
soldiers to it. It later erected a granite monument on the grounds and
added a stone marker at each grave. The Ladies' Memorial Association
continues to maintain the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery, while the
National Park Service now administers the National Cemetery.
(click on image for a PDF version)
Back cover: Fredericksburg residents return to their shattered
homes. Painting by David E. Henderson. (NPS)|